On the most banal red-tape level, none of that makes sense. It’s not just that to effect a smooth departure from Hong Kong, or anyplace else overseen by China, you must present your (valid) passport. To board a plane to Russia, standard practice for a U.S. citizen is that you must either have a visa, or a connecting flight back out of Russia already booked. To get a visa requires first and foremost a valid passport, as well as an invitation from a host person or organization in Russia. To merely transit Sheremetyevo without a Russian visa requires a complete onward booking. In which case, one might suppose that the various governments involved, with all their staggering surveillance powers, might have some clue about Snowden’s itinerary.
Instead, we have an American fugitive, traveling on a revoked passport, who is apparently waved though emigration with no problem in Hong Kong, boards a plane to Russia with no visa and no confirmed onward flight, and then vanishes in the Sheremetyevo transit hall. Forget about finding Snowden. The real talent here lies elsewhere. I’d like to meet his travel agent.