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Russia Has Received No U.S. 'Extradition Request' For Snowden

France -- US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks to European officials via videoconference during a parliamentary hearing on improving the protection of whistleblowers, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, June 24, 2014
Anatoly Kucherena

Anatoly Kucherena

Russian lawyer for former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden

"Russia has received no extradition request listing all of the offenses [Snowden] is charged with. They are essential to know how to defend him. If he is guilty, then show proof of his guilt."

Source: Russian state news agency TASS
Partially true
... in letter, if not in spirit

Kucherena, who has represented Snowden since the fugitive intelligence-leaker fled to Russia in 2013, may technically be correct that Russia has not received an “extradition request” from Washington in the matter. After all, the United States and Russia have no extradition treaty, and no document fitting the exact description Kucherena provides has been made public. Asked specifically whether such a request has been made, the U.S. State Department did not provide an answer to But the public record offers substantial evidence that Washington has requested that Russia hand over Snowden -- or at least facilitate his return to U.S. soil -- and has informed Moscow, in writing, of the “offenses” that he is charged with back home.

Caitlin Hayden, the White House National Security Council spokeswoman at the time of Snowden’s escape to Russia, said on June 25, 2013, that “while we do not have an extradition treaty with Russia, there is nonetheless a clear legal basis to expel Mr. Snowden, based on the status of his travel documents and the pending charges against him.”

"Accordingly, we are asking the Russian government to take action to expel Mr. Snowden without delay and to build upon the strong law enforcement cooperation we have had," Hayden added.

The following month, the U.S. ambassador to Russia at the time, Michael McFaul, said on Twitter that the United States "is not asking for ‘extradition,’ but simply the return of Mr. Snowden." McFaul told that Kucherena’s most recent remarks sound “like legalese” and that the U.S. government “obviously…requested his return long ago.”

That the two sides have conducted high-level discussions over Snowden’s fate has been corroborated by the Russian government as well. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in July 2013 that the issue was being discussed in the “Bortnikov-Mueller channel” -- a reference to Aleksander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, and Robert Mueller, then the head of the FBI.

The Russian Justice Ministry also confirmed that it received a letter from then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder concerning “certain aspects” of the U.S. position on Snowden. The ministry appeared to be referring to a letter from Holder dated July 23, 2013, in which he assured Moscow that Snowden would receive a fair trial in the United States, would not face the death penalty, and would not be tortured.

While Holder’s letter does not explicitly ask Russia to hand over Snowden to the United States, it does challenge the basis for Snowden’s bid for asylum. It also spells out the specific felony charges against the former NSA contractor that Kucherena said Russia has not yet been informed of: “theft of government property,” “unauthorized communication of national defense information,” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.”

Despite the lack of an extradition treaty, the United States has handed over accused criminals to Russian authorities, most recently a Russian man accused of organizing a murder in the 1990s. But Russia appears unlikely to transfer Snowden, the subject of a new film by acclaimed U.S. director Oliver Stone, into U.S. custody anytime soon. The Kremlin has portrayed his leak of information about massive U.S. government surveillance as the political act of a whistleblower, not a criminal act, as Washington alleges.

Asked to comment on Kucherena’s remarks, a State Department spokesperson provided a statement identical to previous ones issued by President Barack Obama’s administration: “Our position has not changed. Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges here in the United States. As such, he should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process.”