Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
A Russian lawmaker caused a diplomatic stir Tuesday by briefly tweeting -- then deleting -- news that NSA leaker Edward Snowden had accepted Venezuela's offer of asylum.
Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, then followed up by saying his source was an 18-hour-old report by the Russian TV news program "Vesti 24."
Pushkov, who has played an unofficial role for the Kremlin on the Snowden affair in the past, seemed especially eager this time to put plenty of distance between himself and the whole matter.
"Contact them about this question," he tweets in Russian, referring to "Vesti 24."
It was not clear what "Vesti 24" report he was referring to. The Russian TV program on Monday noted, as others have, that Snowden -- who has requested asylum in two dozen countries -- had also appealed to Venezuela.
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, in turn, has already offered asylum to Snowden, who apparently is holed up in the transit lounge of a Moscow airport.
Maduro, in remarks late Monday in a meeting with Panama's president, says it is perhaps the world's "first collective humanitarian asylum" with various countries saying "Come here!"
The Venezuelan leader says Snowden "will have to decide when he flies here, if he finally wants to travel here."
Maduro's remarks were distributed Tuesday by his office, the Associated Press reports.
Snowden, who revealed details of a U.S. intelligence program to monitor Internet activity, came to Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on June 23 and was believed to be headed for Cuba. But he did not board that flight and has not been seen publicly since. He is widely believed to still be in the airport's transit zone.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Saturday his country hadn't yet been in contact with Snowden, who has been unable to travel further because the U.S. annulled his passport.
For Snowden to leave for South America, he would need for Venezuela to issue him travel documents and he would need to find a way to get there. The only direct commercial flight from Moscow stops in Havana, Cuba.
The Moscow-Havana flight goes over Europe and the U.S., which could cause complications. Some European countries refused to allow Bolivian President Evo Morales to fly through their airspace on his way home from Moscow last week because of suspicions that Snowden was on his plane.
The presidents of Bolivia and Nicaragua also said over the weekend that Snowden was welcome in their countries.