MOSCOW — Before American fugitive Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow in June — an arrival that Russian officials have said caught them by surprise — he spent several days living at the Russian Consulate in Hong Kong, a Moscow newspaper reported Monday.
The article in Kommersant, based on accounts from several unnamed sources, did not state clearly when Snowden decided to seek Russian help in leaving Hong Kong, where he was in hiding to evade arrest by U.S. authorities on charges that he leaked top-secret documents about U.S. surveillance programs.
The disclosure of the documents brought worldwide scrutiny of U.S. spying efforts.
Snowden arrived in Moscow on June 23 and spent more than a month stranded at Sheremetyevo International Airport. On Aug. 1, Russia granted him temporary asylum, angering the United States.
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Kommersant reported Monday that Snowden purchased a ticket June 21 to travel on Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline, from Hong Kong to Havana, through Moscow. He planned to fly onward to Ecuador or some other Latin American country.
That same day, he celebrated his 30th birthday at the Russian Consulate in Hong Kong, the paper said — though several days earlier he had had an anticipatory birthday pizza with his lawyers at a private house.
Kommersant cited conflicting accounts as to what brought Snowden to the consulate. It quoted a Russian close to the Snowden case as saying the former National Security Agency contractor arrived on his own initiative and asked for help. But a Western official also interviewed by the newspaper alleged that Russia had invited him.
Until now, Russian officials have said that Snowden’s arrival in Moscow was a surprise and not entirely welcome.
“It is true that Mr. Snowden arrived in Moscow, which was completely unexpected for us,” President Vladimir Putin said in Finland in late June.
Snowden never made it to Havana. The United States revoked his passport and sought his return to the United States to stand trial.
Kommersant quoted unnamed Russian officials as saying the Cubans decided to refuse Snowden entry under U.S. pressure, leaving him stranded. That version stands in contrast to widespread speculation that the Russians never intended to let the former CIA employee travel onward.
The article implies that Snowden’s decision to seek Russian help came after he was joined in Hong Kong by Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks staffer who became his adviser and later flew to Moscow with him.
Harrison, the article suggests, had a role in making the plans.
The article noted a statement released by WikiLeaks on June 23, shortly after the Aeroflot flight left Chinese airspace, that said Snowden was heading to a destination where his safety could be guaranteed.