Seeking Snowden in Sheremetyevo


A view of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport outside Moscow. (Sergei Grits/AP)
July 4, 2013

Every year, about 25 million passengers enter Sheremetyevo Airport, and usually they come out again. Not Edward Snowden. The guy made famous by telling secrets — about U.S. surveillance programs — has managed to keep his own whereabouts hush-hush.

Somehow, he has made himself lost for nearly 12 days in a mile-long transit corridor dotted with six VIP lounges, a 66-room capsule hotel, assorted coffee shops, a Burger King and about 20 duty-free shops selling Jack Daniel’s, Cuban rum, Russian vodka and red caviar that costs four times as much as it does in the city.

Unless he’s across the runway in private Terminal A, in the watchful company of Russian officials.

Everybody wants to find him. Journalists want to interview him. The United States wants to prosecute him. And now Anna Chapman wants to marry him.

Being a spy herself — she’s the alluring Russian redhead who was chucked out of the United States in 2010 along with nine other sleeper agents — the suspicious might wonder if it’s what they call in the trade a honey trap: ensnarement by romantic relationship.

“Snowden, will you marry me?!” @ChapmanAnna tweeted late Wednesday.

Thursday was a quiet day at Sheremetyevo but a normal one, with the packs of journalists tiring of the unrequited chase. Athletic teams from Mongolia and China made their way through the airport en route to university games in Kazan. Families with young children waited for flights to summer resorts.

Anastasia Shodieva was selling costume jewelry and stuffed animals at a souvenir stand near the Skoda car display, where the journalists camped out last week. When asked about Snowden, she had to be prompted.

“Oh, that sort-of agent?” she asked, adding that the affair made no difference to her.

The transit zone

The United States wants Snowden on charges of theft and disclosing classified information in violation of the Espionage Act. Scores of journalists were waiting when his flight from Hong Kong landed June 23 in Terminal F. No sign of him. Others filled seats on Aeroflot to Havana — airport officials said Snowden had a ticket for June 24 — and flew off, taking pictures of his empty seat.

The airport’s half-dozen buildings cover an area as big as about 100 football fields, set off a traffic-clogged road 18 miles from the city center. A transit zone, about a mile long, wends its way along the sides of terminals D, E and F, which are connected by a walkway so arriving passengers can board connecting international flights without having to pass through passport control and customs, which requires a visa.

Terminal D, the most modern part, has soaring ceilings and a men’s room with an age-old smell to it. Tatyana Yudina, at the register of a traditional, lacquered-wood crafts souvenir stand, shrugged at the name “Snowden.”


Where is Snowden?

Last week, journalists staked out a chain called Shokoladnitsa, hoping they would find Snowden drinking a $7 cappuccino or an $11 nonalcoholic mojito with $9 blini and red caviar. Nyet.

The capsule hotel rents tiny rooms for about $15 an hour, with a four-hour minimum. No one was spotted going in and out Thursday, and the clerk on duty frostily declared that she wasn’t allowed to talk with reporters.

An odd choice

Russians are a little bemused at all that fuss over surveillance. Many believe that the authorities can read their mail at will, listen in on their calls and sprinkle bugs around as they please.

“Wiretapping is so common, so this is not news,” said Alina Gorchakova, a 48-year-old account manager who stopped to chat on a city street.

What doesn’t seem normal to many is why Snowden decided to go to Ecuador, his original destination, through Russia. Once he arrived here, with his U.S. passport revoked, Ecuador has grown less enthusiastic. Russia says he can go anywhere he likes — he just needs a destination and authorized travel documents. So why doesn’t he go? Or show his face?

And Svetlana Chibisova, a 45-year-old tour agency manager, found it strange that an American carrying U.S. secrets would travel by way of Russia, where security agencies are very much in control.

“I don’t understand what he was thinking,” she said. “Is he a little boy with no idea about the consequences?”

Olga Prokopenko, 40, deputy director of a pharmaceutical company, said the Snowden affair sounded like a fairy tale. “How long will he have to stay in the transit zone? What is he eating there, and where does he sleep? Has anyone seen him at all? Strange.”

“I really wish he could be in some other transit zone,” she said, “because you never know what our authorities will do.”

Often, the television news doesn’t add up, said Yuri Artemiev, a 73-year-old retired aviation engineer.

“I don’t like this situation,” he said. “It looks like they wanted to get benefits from him being here and then something went wrong — as always.”

Snowden has become something of a ghost, said Igor Pavlenko, a 37-year-old sales manager.

“I am not at all sure that we are being told everything,” he said. “For example, as far as I know, he is in Sheremetyevo now. Okay, but maybe this is just one version. Have they shown us video or pictures of him in Sheremetyevo? No!”

Natasha Abbakumova contributed to this report.

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