Moscow -- The United States appeared no closer Tuesday to getting back U.S. spy leaker Edward Snowden, who remains in Russia trying to win political asylum and protection from a U.S. extradition request on charges of espionage.
Russian President Vladimir Putin cleared up the mystery of where exactly Snowden is amid reports in Russian media claiming he had been whisked to an Ecuadorean embassy.
Putin announced that Snowden is in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, and he said that Russia would not hand him over to the United States, with whom it does not have an extradition agreement.
Putin, who was speaking while on a visit to Finland, said that Russian security agencies "didn't work and aren't working" with Snowden. He said Snowden has not crossed the border officially into Russia and is free to go anywhere.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected statements from the Obama administration that Russia must hand over Snowden as the USA has done often for Russia's wanted fugitives.
"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," he said. "There is no lawful basis for this kind of behavior from American officials." he said.
Snowden 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 Snowden's passport, and on Monday White House spokesman Jay Carney said that it is the administration's assumption "that he is in Russia."
Rimsky Yuen, Hong Kong's justice secretary, meanwhile on Tuesday detailed some of the clarifications that the city had requested of the U.S. regarding its extradition request for Snowden after Carney said there had been "a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive." Hong Kong said it did not receive a reply before Snowden's flight.
Yuen said that Hong Kong immigration records, the documents the U.S. Justice Department provided on Snowden's charges and U.S. correspondence showed Snowden's middle name differently - variously James, Joseph and just the initial J - and that the U.S. did not provide his passport number, which might have helped clarify his identity.
Yuen also said that Hong Kong was seeking U.S. clarification as to whether the charges against Snowden were political.
The extradition agreement between the two governments specifically excludes fugitives "if the offense of which that person is accused or was convicted is an offense of a political character," said Barry Sautman, an associate professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Earlier, Sautman told USA TODAY he has "no doubt that a court would construe what Snowden did as political."
"All along we acted fully in accordance with the law and any suggestion that we deliberately let Mr Snowden go away or (did anything else) to obstruct the normal operation is totally untrue," said Yuen.
Tuesday's remarks from Russia and Hong Kong came after a Chinese state newspaper praised Snowden for his decision to make public government surveillance programs, 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, lauded Snowden for "tearing off Washington's sanctimonious mask."
The People's Daily added: "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." She said, "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."