An Aeroflot flight from Moscow that was being closely tracked by media organisations in case Edward Snowden, the former security contractor who revealed details of US surveillance programmes, was on board, landed in Cuba uneventfully on Monday.
Russian reporters on board the flight and foreign press gathered at Havana airport reported no sightings of Snowden or any unusual security.
When the captain of the Aeroflot plane emerged from customs he was surrounded by photographers. He pulled out his own camera, took picture of the photographers and said: “No Snowden, no.”
Members of the aircraft’s crew also told reporters on the plane soon after take-off that Snowden was not on board, according to a Reuters reporter who was on the flight.
Snowden's game of cat-and-mouse with US authorities took an unexpected twist ywhen the fugitive failed to appear on a flight he had apparently booked from Moscow to Cuba.
His disappearance raised the possibility that the Russian government was considering the demands by the Obama administration to return him to the United States, or perhaps questioning him for its own purposes.
Snowden arrived in Moscow on Sunday from Hong Kong, from where he leaked to the media details of secret cyberespionage programmes by both US and British intelligence agencies.
He was said by Russian officials to have spent the night in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport awaiting his onward connection.
The whistle-blower, who is wanted by the US on espionage charges, had been expected to take Aeroflot's 1005 GMT flight yesterday from Moscow to Havana. But the flight took off with no sign that the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor was on board.
Snowden's intended final destination was thought to be Ecuador, where he has applied for asylum and which has sheltered the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.
"We will consider the position of the US government and we will take a decision in due course in line with the [Ecuadorean] constitution, the laws, international politics and sovereignty," Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, told reporters in Vietnam.
On a visit to New Delhi, US Secretary of State John Kerry emphasised that Russia should send Snowden to the United States.
"I would urge them to live by the standards of the law," Kerry said.
Interfax news agency quoted a source as saying Russia was studying an extradition request from the US. But the source said Russia did not have the right to either "detain or deport" Snowden because he had not officially crossed the Russian border.
Assange said Snowden was safe and healthy but did not give any more details about his exact whereabouts.
"The current status of Mr Snowden and Harrison is that both are healthy and safe and they are in contact with their legal teams," Assange said, referring to Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks representative accompanying him.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse, The New York Times