Edward Snowden 'contacted' Russians two days before arrival in Moscow

Russian newspaper reports Snowden discussed his flight plans with consulate in Hong Kong prior to departure, despite Putin claims his arrival was 'complete surprise'

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The Independent US

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden spent two days at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong before flying to Moscow, a respected Russian newspaper reported.

The claims appear to contradict statements from President Vladimir Putin that Mr Snowden’s arrival at the Sheremetyevo international airport was a “complete surprise”.

The newspaper, Kommersant, also reported that the former US intelligence contractor had planned to travel to Cuba, until authorities there bent to American pressure and denied him entry.

Kommersant cites sources “close to Snowden” as well as contacts in the government, and if true the revelations point to much greater Russian involvement in the whistleblower’s efforts to escape charges in the US than had previously been thought.

Mr Snowden flew to Moscow on 23 June with a ticket that would have taken him on to Cuba the following day. According to an unnamed Russian government official, he appeared at the Russian Consulate in Hong Kong on his own initiative two days before the flight and asked for their help.

A source identified as “close to the [American] State Department” confirmed that Cuba was among a number of countries asked by the US not to provide assistance to Mr Snowden.

As a result, officials informed Russia that Mr Snowden’s Aeroflot flight from Moscow would not be allowed to land in Havana if the fugitive was on board.

Two days after Mr Snowden landed in Moscow, President Putin said that his choice of travel route and his request for Russia's help had come as a “complete surprise.” This was interpreted at the time as referring to his arrival in Moscow, but the exact point at which the eastern-European government had been surprised remained unspecified.

Mr Snowden remained at the airport for six weeks, during which time he held a closed meeting with representatives from human rights groups. He was eventually granted a year’s asylum in Russia.

The affair is a continued sore spot for diplomatic relations between Russia and the US, after President Barack Obama cancelled a meeting with Mr Putin over what he described as a “Cold War mentality” in harbouring Mr Snowden.

The presidents are both set to attend next week’s G20 summit in St Petersburg, and it remains unclear whether or not they will meet individually.