Anna Arutunyan, Kim Hjelmgaard and Zach Coleman, USA TODAY
MOSCOW - U.S. spy leaker Edward Snowden is in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday. Putin said that Russia would not extradite him.
Earlier, Russia's foreign minister said that U.S. demands to extradite Snowden to the U.S. were "ungrounded and unacceptable."
Sergey Lavrov said that Snowden has not crossed the border into Russia and that his country has had no involvement in the former National Security Agency contractor's travel plans.
"I want to say straight away that we have no connection either to Mr. Snowden or to his relationship with American justice, or to his travels around the world. He chose his route independently, and we found out about it ... through the media. He did not cross the Russian border," Lavrov said in comments carried by RIA Novosti.
"We consider as absolutely unfounded and unacceptable the attempts we are seeing to accuse Russia of violating U.S. law and almost of conspiracy, accompanied by threats against us. There is no lawful basis for this kind of behavior from American officials." he said.
Snowden flew to Russia on Sunday from Hong Kong, but he has not been seen in public after reports indicated he arrived safely in Moscow.
He failed to board a flight bound for Cuba on Monday afternoon, where it is thought he would then seek onward travel to Ecuador, and possible political asylum. The U.S. has revoked Snowden's passport, and on Monday White House spokesman Jay Carney said that it is the administration's assumption "that he is in Russia."
Rimsky Yuen, Hong Kong's justice secretary, meanwhile on Tuesday detailed some of the clarifications that the city had requested of the U.S. regarding its extradition request for Snowden after Carney said there had been "a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive." Hong Kong said it did not receive a reply before Snowden's flight.
Yuen said that Hong Kong immigration records, the documents the U.S. Justice Department provided on Snowden's charges and U.S. correspondence showed Snowden's middle name differently - variously James, Joseph and just the initial J - and that the U.S. did not provide his passport number, which might have helped clarify his identity.
Yuen also said that Hong Kong was seeking U.S. clarification as to whether the charges against Snowden were political.
The extradition agreement between the two governments specifically excludes fugitives "if the offense of which that person is accused or was convicted is an offense of a political character," said Barry Sautman, an associate professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Earlier, Sautman told USA TODAY he has "no doubt that a court would construe what Snowden did as political."
"All along we acted fully in accordance with the law and any suggestion that we deliberately let Mr Snowden go away or (did anything else) to obstruct the normal operation is totally untrue," said Yuen.
Tuesday's remarks from Russia and Hong Kong came after a Chinese state newspaper praised Snowden for his decision to make public government surveillance programs, adding fresh pressure to increasingly strained U.S.-China relations.
In a commentary, the China's People's Daily, the Chinese Communist party's official newspaper, lauded Snowden for "tearing off Washington's sanctimonious mask."
The People's Daily added: "Not only did the U.S. authorities not give us an explanation and apology, it instead expressed dissatisfaction at the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for handling things in accordance with the law." The commentary went on: "In a sense, the U.S. has gone from a model of human rights to an eavesdropper on personal privacy, the manipulator of the centralized power over the international internet, and the mad invader of other countries' networks."
Separately, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying also denounced the U.S. accusations as "groundless." She said, "It is unreasonable for the U.S. to question Hong Kong's handling of affairs in accordance with law, and the accusation against the Chinese central government is groundless."
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard reported from London; Zach Coleman reported from Hong Kong; Assopciated Press