Snowden’s global ‘cat and mouse’ chase leaves media stuck in transit

Editor’s Note: John Defterios is CNN’s Emerging Markets Editor . Watch his show, Global Exchange, Sunday to Thursday 1900 UAE and follow him on Twitter. Amir Daftari is a CNN senior producer.

Story highlights

CNN's John Defterios and Amir Daftari have spent hours in the transit zone of Moscow's airport

Edward Snowden is reportedly in the airport, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin

Moscow's view is that Snowden has not cleared passport control, therefore not in Russia

It's a global game of cat and mouse -- and CNN ends up in its own version of the game

CNN  — 

By the time we depart Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, we will have spent 36 hours on the ground. Like Edward Snowden, whose exact location here in the transit lounge remains a mystery, we cannot step foot on Russian soil without special visa clearance.

We arrived early Tuesday morning on a mission – to find the former U.S. surveillance specialist in the transit zone. As it turns out, this airport has an expansive area for transiting passengers and we now know nearly every corner of it.

Read more: Dozens of journalists heading for Cuba … without Snowden

Snowden and those who are reportedly handling him are here, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Map: Transit zone between terminal D, E and F

“He is a transit passenger in the transit zone and is still there now,” Putin said Tuesday. “The sooner he selects his final destination point, the better both for us and for himself.”

That statement came after we’d already landed on the ground in Sheremetyevo. It piqued global interest in the story. Putin broke his silence on Snowden, after leaving initial diplomacy to his seasoned Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Legally, Moscow has taken the view that Snowden has not cleared passport control, therefore is not on Russian soil.

Read more: 4 options for the U.S. to get Snowden back

Along with our Berlin-based camerawoman Claudia Otto, we scoped out the lay of our new land: Terminals D, E and F. First order of business, the infamous Capsule Hotel in Terminal E.

Contrary to its appearance on the outside, the Capsule does not reflect futuristic, space age technology on the inside. The rooms are the scale of large walk-in closets in the U.S. but with much poorer insulation.

The kind receptionist at the front desk has heard of Edward Snowden but without hesitation insists he or anyone assisting him has not stepped foot in the Capsule. We check in and use the hotel as our airport production base.

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After a few hours on the ground we produce a mini video report on Snowden’s movements, the locations he could be at the airport and why Lavrov says insinuations by Washington of harbouring Snowden are not acceptable.

Once the story is filed, we conduct a live report from Terminal E with nothing more than a hand-held camera, a laptop, a microphone and a fist full of phones to liaise with our operations in Atlanta, New York and London.

Interactive map: En route with Snowden

Putin then moves into action while on a bi-lateral visit in Finland. Global interest reaches a crescendo. The next thing we know, CNN is the only international broadcaster inside the transit zone and we begin conducting two-three live shots an hour.

We do this from the center of the terminal. Around us, passengers come and go to places such as Almaty, Amsterdam, Split, Tallinn and Vienna.

We, of course, take particular interest in Aeroflot flight number 150, which is bound for Havana. A day earlier, that same flight carried journalists – including our Phil Black – hoping to travel with Snowden, possibly on his way to Quito, Ecuador. Again, no Edward Snowden, but we take stills and video shots just in case.

Read more: Snowden a ‘free man’ in Moscow airport, Russian president says

This global game of “cat and mouse” appears to have entered a new phase. The Russian President compares the situation to trying to shave a piglet. A lot of noise, Putin noted, but very little hair to be had.

By this point we are showing up on the radar of airport security, and so our very own game of cat and mouse ensues as we try to continue doing live reports while being tracked by burly Russian guards.

Outside the airport walls, international diplomacy is also getting fractious. Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling in India, asks Russia for reciprocity. Washington handed over seven Russians, Kerry points out, when asked to by Moscow. This administration wants Snowden in return.

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The two former Cold War adversaries cooperated on the Boston Marathon bombings investigation, but when it comes to Edward Snowden and his treasure trove of leaked documents, it does not appear Russia is prepared to do so.

We finish our last live report at 0400 Moscow time Wednesday, 21 hours after arrival. Edward Snowden is very likely still here, spirited away in a room designed to keep him out of sight but certainly not out of mind.