Edward Snowden leaves airport after gaining aslyum in Russia (+video)
Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP
MOSCOW — 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 WikiLeaks, 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 already appears to have further strained tense U.S.-Russian relations 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.
The White House insisted Snowden isn't a whistleblower or dissident, saying the move to grant him asylum undermines Russia's record of cooperation with the U.S. Spokesman Jay Carney said that the White House is re-evaluating whether a planned fall summit with President Barack Obama and Putin should still go ahead.
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 as a requirement of getting asylum.
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."
Snowden's father said in remarks broadcast Wednesday on Russian television that he would like to visit his son. Kucherena said he is arranging the trip.
WikiLeaks, which has adopted Snowden's cause, said in its statement that legal adviser Sarah Harrison has been with him in the transit zone for 39 days and remains with him. It said only that they left the airport in a taxi and that they are heading to a "secure, confidential place."
The group also praised Russia for providing him shelter.
"We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden," WikiLeaks said on Twitter. "We have won the battle — now the war."
Kucherena said that Snowden spent little time packing. The lawyer said the fugitive had friends in Russia, including some Americans, who could help ensure his security, but wouldn't elaborate.
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