National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden left the transit zone of a Moscow airport and officially entered Russia after authorities granted him asylum for a year, his lawyer said Thursday, a move that suggests the Kremlin isn’t shying away from further conflict with the United States.
Snowden’s whereabouts will be kept a secret for security reasons, lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said, making it even harder to keep track of the former NSA systems analyst, who has been largely hiding out at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23.
The U.S. has demanded that Russia send Snowden home to face prosecution for espionage over his leaks that revealed wide U.S. Internet surveillance practices, but Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the request. In a statement released by the WikiLeaks secret-spilling site, Snowden thanked Russia and lashed out at the Obama administration.
“Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning,” he said. “I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations.”
The move could further strain U.S.-Russian relations already tense amid differences over Syria, U.S. criticism of Russia’s human rights record and other disputes. Putin has said his asylum was contingent on him not hurting U.S. interests, but the Kremlin could have interpreted that to exclude documents he had already leaked to newspapers that continue to trickle out.
In his application for asylum, Snowden said he feared he could face torture or capital punishment if he is returned to the U.S., though the U.S. has promised Russia that is not the case. The U.S. has revoked his passport, and the logistics of him reaching other countries that have offered him asylum, including Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, are complicated.
“He now is one of the most sought after men in the world,” Kucherena told reporters at the airport. “The issue of security is very important for him.”
The Guardian newspaper on Wednesday published a new report on U.S. intelligence-gathering based on information from Snowden, but Kucherena said the material was provided before Snowden promised to stop leaking.
The one-year asylum can be extended indefinitely, and Snowden also has the right to seek Russian citizenship. According to the rules set by the Russian government, a person who has temporary asylum would lose it if he travels abroad.
Kucherena said it would be up to Snowden to decide whether to travel to any foreign destination, but added that “he now has no such plans.”