MOSCOW - Edward Snowden, the US intelligence leaker who was granted asylum in Russia, contacted Russian officials before he flew to Moscow and spent several days at the country's diplomatic mission in Hong Kong, a newspaper said on Monday.
The Kommersant, citing a source close to Snowden, said the former US National Security Agency contractor had spent several days at the Russian general consulate in Hong Kong before boarding an Aeroflot flight to Moscow in late June.
Snowden even celebrated his 30th birthday there, the source was quoted as saying.
A Western source confirmed the information to the newspaper, adding that the West thought it was possible that Russian authorities had invited Snowden to come to Russia.
It is likely that "Russians themselves invited Snowden, passing the invitation on to him via the Chinese who were happy to get rid of him," the Western source was quoted as saying.
A source in the Russian government confirmed to Kommersant that Snowden was at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong for two days until he left for Moscow. The source however said Snowden had turned up uninvited, adding that he had planned to fly to Latin America via Moscow and asked for help, citing international conventions on the rights of refugees.
Snowden flew to Moscow on June 23 but did not board a flight to Cuba the next day despite having a reservation.
He ended up spending more than a month in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow until Russia gave him a temporary asylum.
The move led to a new crisis in ties between Moscow and Washington. President Vladimir Putin has said Snowden arrived in Russia uninvited and would leave as soon as possible.
Kommersant said Snowden did not board an Aeroflot plane to Cuba even though he had been checked in because Havana said it would not allow the plane to land.
Citing several sources, the newspaper said Cuba had made the decision under pressure from the United States.