Edward Snowden is seen in June in Hong Kong. Snowden has left Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and entered Russia, his lawyer said Thursday. (Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras / The Guardian v)
MOSCOW — National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia for one year but has “no plans” to leave for another country, according to his lawyer.
The former defense contractor left the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where he had been holed up since June 23, and went by taxi to an undisclosed location, according to Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s legal representative.
The lawyer told RT, a Russian television network, that the papers issued by the Russian Immigration Service allow him to live, work and travel in Russia for a year and can be renewed annually.
Snowden, who was blocked from travel after the U.S. revoked his passport and issued an international arrest warrant on espionage charges, has been offered permanent asylum by four Latin American countries: Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.
In an interview today with Rossiya 24 television, however, Kucherena said Snowden had “no plans” to leave Russia. He noted that Snowden had been reading classic Russian literature and learning the language.
The Associated Press reported that Snowden left Sheremetyevo airport, where he had been holed up since arriving June 23 from Hong Kong.
Kucherena said Snowden left unaccompanied in a regular taxi, although WikiLeaks said Snowden was joined by Sarah Harrison, one of its activists.
“I watched him leave; he went to a safe place,” RIA Novosti quoted Kucherena as saying
He said Snowden’s whereabouts will be kept secret.
“He is the most wanted person on Earth and his security will be a priority,” the attorney added. “He will deal with personal security issues and lodging himself. I will just consult him as his lawyer.”
Kucherena said the former NSA systems analysts “is ready to talk to press, but he needs a day for adaptation.”
Snowden’s father, Lon Snowden, said in remarks broadcast Wednesday on Russian television that he would like to visit his son. Kucherena said he is arranging the trip, The Associated Press reported.
The Snowden affair has created diplomatic strains between Moscow and Washington, which has requested his extradition.
The Kremlin has said it will not return Snowden to the U.S., but has gotten assurances from Snowden that he will not engage in activities harmful to the United States while he has temporary asylum.
President Obama plans to travel to the annual meeting of the Group of 20 nations in St. Petersburg in September and had added a side trip to Moscow to meet with Putin.
The New York Times reported two weeks ago that the White House was considering canceling the Moscow portion of the trip because of the Snowden affair.
But Yuri Ushakov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, says Russia is confident that the latest development in the case will not affect Obama’s upcoming visit to Moscow.
“We are aware of the atmosphere being created in the U.S. over Snowden, but we didn’t get any signals regarding a possible cancellation of the visit from American authorities,” he told RIA Novosti.
Snowden has been charged under the Espionage Act for leaking information to reporters about the NSA’s worldwide surveillance and data-gathering networks.
The 30-year-old former defense contractor has said he did what he believes was right to go public with the information in order to “correct this wrongdoing.”
WikiLeaks, the online group that publishes secret information, news leaks and classified media from anonymous sources, hailed Russia’s decision on Twitter.
“We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden,” WikiLeaks said. “We have won the battle — now the war.”