Show time? Snowden to hold meeting in Moscow Airport

The former NSA contractor has invited human rights groups and lawyers to his first public appearance since arriving in Russia last month.

Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
People wait in the transit zone of Terminal F at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow today. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden asked to meet human rights groups at the airport on Friday to discuss what he called 'threatening behavior' by the United States to prevent him gaining asylum.

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Former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden will meet with human rights groups and lawyers today at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, his first public appearance since arriving in Moscow last month.

Mr. Snowden issued an invitation yesterday to hear a statement on "the next steps forward in my situation." The meeting makes clear his whereabouts – which had become ambiguous amid a slew of asylum requests – at least temporarily.

RIA Novosti reports that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, lawyer Henrikh Padva, and the head of Russian rights organization “Resistance” were all invited. According to CNN, that list also includes Transparency International and Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin.

The Financial Times reports that several Russian politicians have also been invited, but Russian President Vladimir Putin's press secretary told RIA Novosti that Snowden has not requested a meeting with officials.

RIA Novosti adds that, according to Reuters, no journalists will be allowed at the initial meeting, but a press conference will take place later.

According to the Financial Times, Snowden is expected to discuss accusations that he is working for a foreign government and providing intelligence to Russia and China. Quoting Interfax news agency, the Financial Times reports that Snowden “plans to voice his attitude to the US administration’s maniacal campaign of his persecution, as a result of which passengers of flights bound for Latin American countries are now in danger,” a reference to the grounding of the plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales last week.

Amnesty International's Seregei Nikitin acknowledged to the Financial Times that there is not much human rights groups can do beyond publicizing his case. The organization's stance on Snowden is that it was “his right to distribute this information" and because it is possible Snowden would be tortured in the US, “he should not be given to the US authorities," Mr. Nikitin said.

CNN reports that a staff member at the Russian office of Human Rights Watch posted the meeting invitation on her Facebook page. Tanya Lokshina wrote in the post that she received the emailed invitation around 5 p.m. yesterday and was unsure if it was real.

In the letter, the writer praises the countries who have offered him support, in the face of what he describes as "an unlawful campaign by officials in the U.S. Government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum."...

The writer invites those addressed to join him at Sheremetyevo Airport "for a brief statement and discussion regarding the next steps forward in my situation."

Snowden arrived in Moscow on June 23 and has since requested asylum in "dozens" of countries, CNN reports. The Washington Post's Max Fisher has tracked Snowden's asylum requests and their responses on a map here.

Reuters reports that it is not as easy as simply finding a country that will harbor him. Despite international aviation rules that allow commercial aircraft to stop in any country without prior permission, Washington has warned of "consequences" for any country that allows Snowden to land or pass through without handing him over. It will be difficult to craft a route that does not enter the airspace of any US ally.

There are no direct commercial flights from Moscow to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, the three Latin American countries that have offered Snowden asylum. The most obvious route is through Havana but Cuba has not said whether it would allow him to pass through.

Snowden had planned to take a flight to Havana with Aeroflot on June 24, less than 24 hours after his arrival in Moscow, sparking a frenzy of international media demand for tickets on the flight. But airport sources said he pulled out at the last minute, probably because the lane usually flies over the United States.

Assisted by the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy group, Snowden could be looking for flights that hop from one country that is ideologically opposed to the United States to another.

Most long-haul commercial flights heading west from Moscow go over at least one European country. A potential option is a commercial flight to Tehran. He could then try to reach an African country such as Sudan or Angola, which might be ready to risk US wrath. But there are no direct flights from Iran to either country.

Snowden could look at flights east to Shanghai, Beijing, Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, but they involve flying over countries that might object, and China has shown no interest in harboring him.

A private charter with a specially tailored route could take him north over the Arctic and then south over the Atlantic, avoiding US and its allies' airspace. A former CIA analyst quoted by Foreign Policy magazine referred to this as the "scenic route" and estimated the journey at 11,000 km.

But where would the plane refuel, who would foot the potentially huge bill and where would Snowden get such a plane? There are no obvious answers.

Mr. Putin has been clear that Russia considers Snowden a "human rights issue" and will not extradite him to the US, despite American requests, RIA Novosti reports. Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said earlier this month, “Snowden himself sincerely believes, for one reason or another, that he is a rights activist, a fighter for the ideals of democracy and human freedom. This is admitted by Russian human rights activists and Russian human rights organizations, and their foreign colleagues.”

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