Russian President Vladimir Putin has consistently maintained that his government had nothing to do with Edward Snowden's flight from Hong Kong to Moscow as he evaded U.S. authorities, half-suggesting that the Obama administration's aggressive posture toward the NSA leaker had practically forced him upon the Russians.
However, Snowden's arrival at a Moscow airport on June 23 might not have been the surprise Putin claims.
The Russian newspaper Kommersant says in a new report that Snowden got help from Russia while he was in Hong Kong, and even spent a couple of days at the Russian consulate there before fleeing to Moscow. Snowden had planned to stop only briefly at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, but got stuck after Cuba, facing pressure from the U.S., refused to let him make a stopover in Havana, according to Kommersant. Snowden had reportedly planned on flying on toEcuador or one of the other Latin American countries offering him exile.
So even if Putin had not expected Snowden to stick around, he had fully expected the American to show up, if the Kommersant story is accurate.
Putin's government did not immediately comment on the report, but Kommersant's version of events adds a new twist to the story. It remains unclear how much help Russia offered, says Max Seddon at Buzzfeed, but the latest revelation "suggests a far greater level of collusion between Snowden, WikiLeaks, and Russia than previously admitted." At the very least, Seddon says, Kommersant's sources indicate that Snowden and the WikiLeaks representatives who helped him escape reached out to Russia right after Hong Kong received an extradition request from the U.S. on June 20.
One odd assertion in Kommersant's version of events is that Cuba would bend to pressure from the U.S. while leaving Russia stuck with a guest it apparently didn't want.
Still, as Kevin Drum at Mother Jones says, it's probably a good idea to take Kommersant's revelations with a grain of salt. "This may or may not be true," he says, "so keep an open mind about it for now. It's just the latest in Snowden gossip."