Russian offical says Venezuela the ‘best solution’ for Snowden

Kremlin still has no intention of turning Snowden over to US or impeding his travel

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a US defence contractor, is seen in this still image taken from video during an interview by The Guardian in June.  Venezuela and Bolivia have offered Mr  Snowden asylum. Photograph: Reuters

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a US defence contractor, is seen in this still image taken from video during an interview by The Guardian in June. Venezuela and Bolivia have offered Mr Snowden asylum. Photograph: Reuters

 

A senior member of the Russian parliament said last night that political asylum in Venezuela would be “the best solution” for Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who is on the run from the US authorities.

The comments by the Russian lawmaker, Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the international affairs committee of the state Duma, the lower house of parliament, came just a few hours after Venezuela and Nicaragua extended the first firm offers of asylum to Mr Snowden, who has been holed up at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow for nearly two weeks, and they seemed to reflect the Kremlin’s increasing desire to be rid of him.

“Sanctuary for Snowden in Venezuela would be the best solution,” Mr 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.”

In fact, the United States and Venezuela recently began talks toward reconciliation, progress that a senior Obama administration official said yesterday would end if Venezuela sheltered Mr Snowden, as president Nicolas Maduro said he would, or facilitated his journey.

The official cautioned other nations in Latin America, hinting that relations would worsen if they assisted Mr Snowden.

Mr Pushkov’s comments typically echo the Kremlin’s line and, to that extent, they underscored a crucial point: Russia still has no intention of turning Mr 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 amount of time Mr Snowden can remain in his traveler’s purgatory in the transit zone of the airport, where technically, they say, he has not crossed onto Russia territory.

But Mr Putin has also said that the sooner Mr 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. Traveling more than 7,000km can be a daunting prospect under any circumstances.

But Mr Snowden and his supporters at WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group, are now contemplating flight complications of a magnitude unfathomable to even the most experienced frequent fliers.

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 purchases a ticket for a regularly scheduled flight on Aeroflot, the Russian carrier, which Mr Putin has said Mr Snowden is free to do at any time, 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, given a mild thaw in relations with the US, allow Mr Snowden to pass through Havana?

If Snowden and his supporters try to arrange for a private jet, could his benefactors afford one big enough to make the nearly 16-hour flight without refueling, to avoid stopping in a country that would be likely to seize him at the request of the US?

And if a private or government plane is sent to pick him up, would it face the same airspace restrictions that forced the plane of president Evo Morales of Bolivia to land in Vienna on his way home from a conference in Moscow last week?

Mr Morales, still fuming over the diversion of his aircraft, said yesterday that Bolivia would also grant Mr Snowden asylum “if he asked for it.”

Mr Morales, whose openness to sheltering Mr Snowden apparently led to the false conclusion that he had smuggled Mr Snowden onto his airplane, said the decision on asylum was now intended as retaliation.

New York Times