30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
Venezuelan asylum 'best solution' for Edward Snowden, says Russian lawmaker
Russian lawmaker's comments reflect Kremlin's increasing desire to be rid of whistle-blower
A senior member of the Russian Parliament said political asylum in Venezuela would be "the best solution" for Edward Snowden (pictured), the former intelligence contractor on the run from US authorities.
The comments by Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the international affairs committee of the state Duma, Parliament's lower house, came as Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia extended the first firm offers of asylum to Snowden, who has been holed up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport for two weeks, and seemed to reflect the Kremlin's increasing desire to be rid of him.
"Sanctuary for Snowden in Venezuela would be the best solution," Pushkov posted on Twitter. "The country has a sharp conflict with the United States. It will not be worse. And he can't live in Sheremetyevo."
The US and Venezuela recently began talks toward reconciliation, progress an Obama administration official said would end if Venezuela sheltered Snowden, as President Nicolas Maduro said he would, or facilitated his journey. The official cautioned other Latin American nations, hinting that relations would worsen if they helped Snowden.
Pushkov's comments typically echo the Kremlin's line and they underscored a crucial point: Russia still has no intention of turning Snowden over to the US or impeding his travel to any country willing to shelter him.
In fact, far more powerful Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have suggested that there is no set limit on the time Snowden can remain in the airport's transit zone, where technically, they say, he has not crossed onto Russia territory. But Putin has also said that the sooner Snowden picks a destination and leaves, the better.
Still, even as the asylum offers from Venezuela and Nicaragua suggested that Snowden's sojourn in Russia might be nearing its end, getting to his final destination will not be easy.
The easiest route to Latin America from Moscow would take Snowden first to Havana, where he could then connect to direct flights either to Caracas, Venezuela, or Managua, Nicaragua. But if he buys a ticket for a regularly scheduled flight on Aeroflot, the Russian carrier, which Putin has said Snowden is free to do, would the US go so far as to force down a commercial jetliner once it crosses into US airspace, which is part of its normal flight path? And even if the Americans are loath to force down a passenger jet, would Cuba allow Snowden to pass through Havana?
Cuba has not said how it might react if Snowden arrives for a connecting flight. It could follow Russia's lead and treat him as a transit passenger who has technically not crossed onto Cuban territory. But US officials have made clear they view that as a mere technicality and have urged any government with access to send him back to the US.