Photo courtesy of the Associated Press
MOSCOW -- Russia's foreign minister on Tuesday said that U.S. demands to extradite U.S. spy leaker Edward Snowden were "ungrounded and unacceptable."
Sergey Lavrov said that Snowden has not crossed the border into Russia and that his country has had no involvement in the former NSA contractor's travel plans.
"I want to say straight away that we have no connection either to Mr. Snowden or to his relationship with American justice, or to his travels around the world. He chose his route independently, and we found out about it... through the media. He did not cross the Russian border," Lavrov said in comments carried by RIA Novosti.
"We consider as absolutely unfounded and unacceptable the attempts we are seeing to accuse Russia of violating U.S. law and almost of conspiracy, accompanied by threats against us. There is no lawful basis for this kind of behavior from American officials."
Snowden's current whereabouts are not known. He flew to Russia on Sunday from Hong Kong, but he has not been seen in public after reports indicated he arrived safely in Moscow.
He failed to board a flight bound for Cuba on Monday afternoon, where it is thought he would then seek onward travel to Ecuador, and possible political asylum. The U.S. has revoked his passport, and on Monday White House spokesman Jay Carney said that it is the administration's assumption "that he is in Russia."
Tuesday's statement from Russia came after a Chinese state newspaper praised Snowden for his decision to make public a government surveillance program, adding fresh pressure to increasingly strained U.S.-China relations.
In a commentary, the China's People's Daily, the Chinese Communist party's official newspaper, reportedly lauded Snowden for "tearing off Washington's sanctimonious mask." The remarks from Beijing came after Washington on Monday criticized Hong Kong and China for claiming the U.S. extradition request for Snowden was not done correctly.
The U.S. maintains that Hong Kong authorities permitted Snowden to leave the territory and that it was a "deliberate choice to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant."
But the People's Daily shot back: "Not only did the U.S. authorities not give us an explanation and apology, it instead expressed dissatisfaction at the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for handling things in accordance with the law." The commentary went on: "In a sense, the U.S. has gone from a model of human rights to an eavesdropper on personal privacy, the manipulator of the centralized power over the international internet, and the mad invader of other countries' networks."
Separately, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying also denounced the U.S. accusations as "groundless." "It is unreasonable for the U.S. to question Hong Kong's handling of affairs in accordance with law, and the accusation against the Chinese central government is groundless," she said.