Edward Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. security contractor, left the transit zone at Moscow’s international airport Thursday after Russian authorities granted him temporary asylum.
Anatoly Kucherena, an attorney for Snowden, said documents were issued Thursday allowing Snowden to live and work in Russia for up to one year while his application for permanent political asylum is pending. Snowden, 30, had been stranded in Russia’s Sheremetyevo Airport for more than five weeks.
“I have just seen him off. He has left for a secure location,” Kucherena told the state broadcaster Russia 24.
Kucherena described Snowden as “the most wanted man on the planet” and said he “needed time to adapt to Russian realities.
In Washington, lawmakers reacted furiously to Russia’s action, warning of serious repercussions in U.S.-Russian relations.
Snowden left Sheremetyevo in a taxi Thursday afternoon, eluding reporters who have camped at the airport since he arrived June 23 on a flight from Hong Kong.
Kucherena did not reveal where Snowden was bound, saying that although he was ready to provide advice, it was up to his client to decide where to live.
The lawyer said arrangements are being made for Snowden’s father to visit him in Russia, the Associated Press reported. In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Lon Snowden said he was eager to speak with his son but had refused an FBI offer to fly him to Moscow while his son was trapped at the airport, because U.S. authorities could not guarantee that the two would be able to meet.
“If he comes back to the United States, he is going to be treated horribly,” Lon Snowden said. “He is going to be thrown into a hole. He is not going to be allowed to speak.”
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, said he was convinced that Russia could guarantee the security of Snowden but would probably prevent him from meeting with foreign media.
“Snowden could be at a dacha [country house] outside Moscow or shipped off to a seaside or ski resort, but the likes of you won’t find out where he is,” Trenin said. “Russia is a vast place.”
Snowden is wanted in the United States for leaking classified documents about telephone and e-mail surveillance programs. The documents issued Thursday will allow Snowden to live in Russia for up to one year, the lawyer said.
U.S. authorities repeatedly asked Russia to turn Snowden over to them so that he could be prosecuted for leaking the documents, and Secretary of State John F. Kerry said in June that Russia was defying international convention by allowing the fugitive to remain unhindered in the transit zone.
“There are standards of behavior between sovereign nations,” Kerry said. “There is common law. There is respect for rule of law.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, said he saw no reason for Russia to extradite Snowden to the United States. He said that for Snowden to remain in Russia, he would have to refrain from releasing information that is damaging to the United States. Putin added that the case should not be allowed to damage Russian-U.S. ties.
“If he wants to stay here, there is one condition,” Putin said July 1. “He has to stop his work undermining our U.S. partners, as odd as it may sound coming from me.”
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,
Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela have offered Snowden refuge, but pressure from Washington and concerns that the United States or Europe might block him from traveling through their airspace — his U.S. passport has been revoked — have prevented him from leaving Russia.
Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin official, told reporters Thursday that the “relatively insignificant case” of Snowden would not harm ties between Russia and the United States. There was no sign that President Obama would cancel a planned trip to Moscow in September, he added.
But Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, slammed the decision to grant Snowden temporary asylum as a “setback” for U.S.-Russian relations. Snowden is “a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia,” he said in a statement.
“Edward Snowden will potentially do great damage to U.S. national security interests, and the information he is leaking could aid terrorists and others around the world who want to do real harm to our country,” Menendez said. “Russia must return Snowden to face trial at home.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Russia’s action “a disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States,” as well as “a slap in the face of all Americans.”
He said in a statement: “Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin’s Russia. We need to deal with the Russia that is, not the Russia we might wish for. We cannot allow today’s action by Putin to stand without serious repercussions.”
McCain called for additional U.S. legislation targeting Russian human rights violators, a renewed push to complete missile defense programs in Europe and “another round of NATO expansion, including the Republic of Georgia.” He said the United States should also challenge Russian crackdowns on dissidents and speak out for those who are demanding “greater freedom, accountability and rule of law in Russia.”
The granting of temporary asylum to Snowden “should finally strip away the illusions that many Americans have had about Russia the past few years,” McCain said. “We have long needed to take a more realistic approach to our relations with Russia, and I hope today we finally start.