Edward Snowden, who exposed mass US surveillance programmes and was granted asylum in Russia, contacted Russian officials before he flew to Moscow and spent two days at the country's diplomatic mission in Hong Kong, a newspaper said yesterday.
The Moscow-based Kommersant, citing several sources, also said the former US National Security Agency contractor did not board a flight to Cuba from Moscow as planned because Havana, under pressure from Washington, said it would not allow the plane to land.
Kommersant, citing a source close to Snowden, said he spent time at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong before boarding an Aeroflot flight to Moscow on June 23. A Western source confirmed the information to the newspaper, adding that the West thought it was possible that Russian authorities had invited Snowden to come to Russia.
It is likely that "Russians themselves invited Snowden, passing the invitation on to him via the Chinese who were happy to get rid of him", the Western source was quoted as saying.
A source in the Russian government confirmed to Kommersant that Snowden was at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong for two days until he left for Moscow. But the source said Snowden turned up uninvited in Moscow, intending to fly to Latin America and asked for help, citing international conventions on the rights of refugees.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at the time that Moscow was not aware of Snowden's plans to travel to Russia.
Snowden's Hong Kong-based legal adviser Albert Ho Chun-yan said he could not confirm that Snowden spent time at the Russian consulate. "All I can say is that I have absolutely no idea about this," Ho said. "I was only his legal adviser and was not fully involved in his dealings."
A spokeswoman for the consulate in Hong Kong would neither confirm nor comment on the report.
Snowden flew to Moscow on June 23, but did not board a flight to Cuba the next day despite having a reservation. He spent more than a month in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport until Russia gave him temporary asylum.