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International Relations

Putin: US whistleblower free to leave Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that US whistleblower Edward Snowden remains in the transit zone of a Moscow airport. Putin denied allegations that Russian intelligence agencies had worked with Snowden.

In the first official comment on Snowden by a senior Russian official, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Moscow refused to accept any blame over the whistleblower's efforts to evade prosecution in the United States.

"We consider the attempts to accuse the Russian side of violating US laws, and practically of involvement in a plot, to be absolutely groundless and unacceptable," Lavrov told a joint news conference in Moscow.

"He [Snowdon] has not crossed the Russian border," the Russian foreign minister said.

German public broadcaster ARD's Russia correspondent, Udo Lielischkies, interpreted that as a hint that Snowden never left the airport's transit area, thereby never actually setting foot on Russian soil.

Washington has said it believes that Snowden is in Moscow.

Snowden had been booked on a flight from Moscow to Havana on Monday, but did not board. Two dozen reporters had bought tickets for the flight in the hope of getting a scoop.

Snowden has applied for asylum in the Latin American nation of Ecuador.

China upset over US allegations

Reports of Snowden's journey from Hong Kong to Moscow without a valid passport, as his US travel document has been revoked, led to accusations from Washington that China had helped the whistleblower avoid extradition.

"It is unreasonable for the US to question Hong Kong's handling of affairs in accordance with law, and the accusation against the Chinese central government is groundless," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing in Beijing.

The Chinese foreign ministry added that Beijing would not accept Washington's threat of a deterioration of bilateral relations.

Her remarks came after White House spokesman Jay Carney had criticized China for allegedly allowing Snowdon to flee.

"This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship," he said.

Snowden's revelations of extensive US monitoring of phone call logs and Internet data, known as the "PRISM" program, led China to step up its criticism of US-based hacking.

The whistleblower also revealed details of a British surveillance program called "Tempora," which has upset European governments - most notably Germany.

rg/slk (AFP, Reuters, dpa)