Assuming National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is still actually in the “transit zone” of the Moscow airport, as the Russian government says he is, his options for escaping appear to be dwindling.
Now that his U.S. passport has been revoked, Snowden needs temporary travel papers to get to where he wants to go, assuming he can find one.
And even if he can get temporary travel papers, Jose de Cordoba and Jack Nicas of the Wall Street Journal report, Snowden’s options may be limited.
Yesterday, there were reports that Snowden had been given a “refugee document of passage” by Ecuador. Ecuador has since denied this, however, and says that it won’t consider Snowden’s request for asylum unless Snowden physically applies for it on Ecuadorean soil (the country or an embassy).
There are also no direct flights from the Moscow airport to Ecuador. That means that, to get to Ecuador, Snowden will have to fly through another country that won’t seize and extradite him when he lands. There are few countries that Snowden can fly through from Moscow to Quito without getting seized and extradited, however.
Cuba, the country that Snowden might have wanted to go through, has an extradition treaty with the U.S. Although Cuba has ignored this treaty in the past, the WSJ team thinks Cuba will be more careful about thumbing its nose at the U.S. this time.
There’s a freight flight from Moscow to Senegal and then to Ecuador, but it’s operated by Lufthansa. And Lufthansa has said it doesn’t carry passengers on its freight flights.
Snowden and his Wikileaks helpers might be able to rent a private jet to fly Snowden directly to Ecuador, but there are actually few private jets that can fly that far without refueling. The Gulfstream 650 and 550 can do it, and one smaller plane can do it with a light load and favourable winds, but all those planes are expensive. A private aviation expert told the WSJ that a one-way flight from Moscow to Quito would cost $212,000, all in.
Snowden could defect directly to Ecuador in Ecuador’s embassy in Moscow, but to do that, he would have to get to the embassy. Ecuador diplomats could pick him up at the airport in a car with diplomatic plates, but the WSJ says the car’s diplomatic status could be revoked instantly if Russia wanted to intervene.
Snowden could stay in Russia if Russia decided to grant him asylum. But given Vladimir Putin’s public statements on Snowden so far, it seems that Russia would prefer to get whatever they can out of Snowden and then send him on his way.
So that leaves the Moscow airport transit lounge.
Journalists have been searching for Snowden in the transit zone, but they haven’t seen hide nor hair of him. This suggests that he is either well hidden or has already been moved to another location (or never arrived there at all).
Given Snowden’s apparently simple escape from Hong Kong, it’s certainly possible that Russia will just announce that they no longer have him and have no idea where he is–and it’s also certainly possible that he’s already gone.
But if he’s in the Moscow airport transit lounge, it may be harder than everyone thinks for him to get to his new happy home in Ecuador or some other country that wants to stick a finger in the eye of the United States.
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