Whistleblower Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow on Sunday afternoon for what appears to be a one-night stopover on his way to Latin America.
Mr. Snowden was reportedly whisked away in a car immediately after Aeroflot flight SU213 from Hong Kong touched down at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport at 17:15 local time.
Passengers of the Hong Kong flight said that contrary to the usual practice the airliner came to a halt some way from the airport terminal and a car with diplomatic red plates picked up Mr. Snowden right on the tarmac. Dozens of reporters waiting for his arrival were left empty-handed.
Aeroflot sources said Mr. Snowden was flying to Cuba with a stopover in Moscow. From Cuba he may fly to Venezuela or Ecuador.
A source in the Russian security services confirmed that Mr. Snowden was in Moscow and said the authorities would not detain him.
“We knew that he was coming to Moscow, of course. Russian law enforces have no complaints against him and no order to detain him has been issued,” the RIA Novosti news wire quoted the official as saying.
Mr. Snowden does not have a Russian visa and cannot leave the airport, but can stay inside the transit zone, which has a hotel, for 24 hours. The next Aeroflot flight to Havana, Cuba, is at 14:00 on Monday.
Russian news wires quoted Ecuadorian sources as saying that the Ecuador ambassador was “meeting Mr. Snowden in Moscow”. The ambassador’s car was spotted parked in the airport VIP zone.
Ecuador has been giving shelter to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London since last year.
Today TV channel quoted its sources as saying that a doctor from the Ecuadorian embassy here had examined Mr. Snowden at the airport.
Russia has been non-committal, with the Foreign Ministry saying only that Mr. Snowden, “according to some information, could be transiting Moscow”.
However, the way Mr. Snowden was taken off the plane separately from other passengers may indicate the involvement of Russian security services.
The spokesman of Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that if Mr. Snowden applied for asylum, Russia would consider his case.