Russia increasingly impatient over Snowden's airport stay

MOSCOW Fri Jul 5, 2013 12:08am IST

The sun rises above Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport June 27, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

The sun rises above Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport June 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Edward Snowden should find another country to seek refuge in, a Russian official said on Thursday, signalling Moscow's growing impatience over the former U.S. spy agency contractor's stay at a Moscow airport.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia had received no request for political asylum from Snowden and he had to solve his problems himself after 11 days in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.

President Vladimir Putin has refused to extradite the American and Russian officials have delighted in his success in staying out of the United States' clutches since revealing details of secret U.S. government surveillance programmes.

But Moscow also has made clear that Snowden is an increasingly unwelcome guest because the longer he stays, the greater the risk of the diplomatic standoff causing lasting damage to relations with Washington.

"He needs to choose a place to go," Ryabkov told Reuters. "As of this moment, we do not have a formal application from Mr Snowden asking for asylum in the Russian Federation.

Ryabkov told Itar-Tass news agency separately that Russia "cannot solve anything for him" and the situation should now be resolved "one way or the other".

His remarks echoed comments by Putin, who has urged Snowden, 30, to leave as soon as he can.

France and Italy, both U.S. allies, said they had rejected asylum requests from Snowden.

"Like many countries France has received, via its ambassador in Moscow, an asylum request from Edward Snowden. For legal reasons and given the applicant's situation, it will not be processed," Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in a statement.

Valls had said earlier that France's relations with the United States would not allow it to harbour Snowden.

Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said any asylum request would have to be presented in person at the border or on Italian territory, which Snowden had not done.

"As a result there do not exist the legal conditions to accept such a request, which in the government's view would not be acceptable on a political level either," she told parliament.

On Monday, Putin said Snowden could only be granted asylum by Moscow if he agreed to stop actions that could harm the United States.

Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said on Tuesday that Snowden had withdrawn his interest in asylum in Russia after Putin spelled out the terms. His options have narrowed further since then as no country has agreed to grant him asylum.

INDEPENDENCE DAY

Russian officials have kept Snowden at arm's length since he landed from Hong Kong on June 23, saying the transit area where passengers stay between flights is neutral territory and he will be on Russian soil only if he goes through passport control.

Moscow has also done nothing to trumpet his presence or parade him before cameras and Putin has avoided the temptation to mock Obama when asked about the affair in public. He said last week he would prefer not to deal with it at all.

Relations with Washington have been strained since Putin's return to the presidency last year. He has accused the United States of backing protesters demanding his removal and Washington is concerned that he is cracking down on dissent.

But there have been signs of an improvement as the sides try to cooperate more on security since the April 15 Boston marathon bombings, in which two ethnic Chechens are the main suspects. The United States has also shown some restraint in its remarks.

"We continue to talk with the Russian government every day (about Snowden), absolutely every day, including myself," U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul told reporters. "We hope to resolve this ... in a way that we want to have it ended and so far we're very happy with our interactions with the Russian government."

In a message to Obama on U.S. Independence Day, Putin said the United States and Russia shared a special responsibility for global security and counter-terrorism and that he is certain they can agree on key issues despite differences, the Kremlin said.

Russia's Interfax news agency underlined Washington's own determination to keep ties on an even keel, quoting an unnamed source as saying Snowden's case had not been raised by U.S. Justice Department officials at recent talks in Moscow.

Russia has, however, revelled in the diplomatic fallout since Bolivian President Evo Morales, a Putin ally, was held up on his way home from an energy meeting in Moscow because a number of European countries refused initially to let his plane into their airspace over suspicions that Snowden was on board.

Bolivia blamed the delays on Washington and the Russian Foreign Ministry criticised three European Union member states.

"The actions of the authorities of France, Spain and Portugal could hardly be considered friendly actions towards Bolivia," it said. "Russia calls on the international community to comply strictly with international legal principles." (Additional reporting by Natalie Huet in Paris; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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