Russia has given U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden a document that would allow him to leave a Moscow airport and wait somewhere else in the country while his temporary-asylum request is considered, Russian news media reported Wednesday.
This comes eight days after Snowden applied for temporary asylum in Russia, where the former National Security Agency contractor arrived from Hong Kong after admitting to revealing sweeping U.S. electronic surveillance programs to the news media.
Since arriving at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on June 23, Snowden had been unable to leave the airport’s transit area because the United States revoked his passport. He faces espionage charges in the United States.
Last week, a Russian lawyer assisting Snowden said he would receive a certificate showing that the asylum request is under consideration, and that certificate would allow him to legally exit the airport and wait elsewhere in Russia while the request is mulled.
Even with the certificate, it’s still not clear whether Russia will grant the temporary-asylum request — a decision that could take a few months. But if it does, Snowden would be able to live in Russia, and even travel abroad, for at least a year, lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said last week.
Washington has no extradition agreement with Russia and FBI agents who work at the U.S. Embassy there have no authority to make arrests.
If Snowden is granted temporary asylum in Russia, it’s unclear whether he’d try to move elsewhere. He’s previously indicated that he eventually wanted refuge in Latin America. But Kucherena suggested last week that Snowden might take his time in Russia.
“As far as I know, he’s planning to stay in Russia to learn Russian culture, Russian language and (to) live here,” Kucherena told CNN last week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that Snowden would need to “stop his work aimed at harming our American partners” if he wanted to stay in the country.
In a subsequent meeting with human rights activists and lawyers at the airport on July 12, Snowden reportedly said he wanted temporary asylum in Russia while awaiting safe transit to Latin America, and added that he would not harm the United States in the future.
The presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia have said their countries would give Snowden asylum, and Nicaragua’s president said he would offer it “if circumstances permit.” But he would need the legal ability to travel there — something that temporary asylum in Russia could give him.
The U.S. government has requested Russia expel Snowden. Absent that, it will watch carefully the route he takes if he tries to reach one of the Latin American countries willing to take him in.
The United States could grab Snowden if any plane carrying him were to refuel in a country that respects U.S. arrest warrants. But he likely will be careful to avoid that scenario.
Nevertheless, the United States has sent provisional arrest warrants to a number of countries where Snowden could either transit or seek asylum, a U.S. official said last week.
CNN’s Jason Hanna, Phil Black and Carol Cratty contributed to this report
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