US Warns Russia Not to Harbor NSA Leaker Snowden

June 24, 2013 - 10:31 PM

Obama and Putin at G8

President Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a G8 summit in Northern Ireland on Monday, June 17, 2013. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State John Kerry warned Monday that Russia was “on notice” with regard to the U.S. request to hand over the indicted former National Security Agency consultant Edward Snowden, even as Chinese officials played down concerns about soured relations with the U.S. over the decision to let the fugitive leave Chinese soil.

As of early Tuesday Snowden, who is wanted in the U.S. for leaking secrets to the media, was believed still to be at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, his first destination after flying out of Hong Kong on an Aeroflot flight on Sunday. With Iceland and Ecuador among countries reportedly considering his request for asylum, the U.S. government warned countries around the world not to harbor him.

Among the revelations made by Snowden over recent weeks were claims of NSA surveillance on targets in China and Russia – specifically, hacking of Chinese cellphone companies and interception of then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s communications while he was visiting Britain in 2009.

Armed with those claims, Chinese and Russian officials are voicing little sympathy for U.S. efforts to bring Snowden to justice – and little concern about warnings of consequences for future relations.

The Russian business daily Kommersant quoted Alexei Pushkov, an influential lawmaker who heads the State Duma’s international affairs committee, as commenting that the U.S. had not considered the possible consequences when it decided to spy on Medvedev in 2009.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying portrayed Snowden’s departure as the result of a decision taken by the Hong Kong authorities rather than the central government – and then cited Snowden’s claims about NSA hacking of Chinese telecom operators as further proof that China – which the U.S. has accused of cyber attacks – in in fact the “victim” of such crimes.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the administration was “just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant.”

Ventrell and White House press secretary Jay Carney both said the Chinese had dealt a “serious setback” to efforts to build mutual trust.

U.S. officials said late last week a formal extradition request had been submitted to Hong Kong. Ventrell said the U.S. had also approached the Chinese government in Beijing on the matter “at the ambassadorial level.”

Albert Ho, a Hong Kong lawmaker who acted as Snowden’s lawyer during his stay there, said he suspected that the central government rather than officials in Hong Kong was behind his departure.

The territory’s RTHK broadcaster quoted Ho as saying he had reason to believe that “those who wanted him to leave represented Beijing authorities.”

Speaking to reporters in New Delhi late Monday after talks with his Indian counterpart, Kerry said it would be “deeply troubling” if China had “willfully” allowed Snowden to leave, and would  “without question,” have “an impact on the relationship, and consequences.”

As for the Russians, Kerry said Deputy Secretary William Burns had been in touch directly and “they are on notice with respect to our desires.”

“I would urge them to live by the standards of the law because that’s in the interests of everybody,” he said, adding that the U.S. had at Russia’s request transferred seven prisoners in the last two years.

“So I think reciprocity and the enforcement of the law is pretty important.”

Russia and the U.S. do not have an extradition treaty, but Kerry referred to unspecified cases where the two have cooperated in law enforcement despite that.

However, the U.S. and Russia have also clashed over such matters, especially after the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008, extradited to the U.S. and put on trial on arms smuggling charges.

Although Moscow said the incident was politically-motivated and repeatedly pressed for his return to Russia, Bout was convicted of conspiring to sell weapons to a terrorist group (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC) and sentenced last April to 25 years’ imprisonment.

Russia said at the time of his sentencing that getting him home would be a priority in relations with the U.S.