After several weeks of cooling his heels in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, Edward Snowden has decided to see what’s outside of it. According to an attorney representing the NSA leaker in Russia, Snowden has filed papers for political asylum in Russia, but perhaps only on a temporary basis:
Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked a cache of classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs, officially filed for temporary asylum in Russia on Tuesday, a human rights lawyer and WikiLeaks say.
According to Russia Today, a state-funded English-language news outlet, Russian human rights lawyer Anatoly Kucherena delivered the asylum application to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where Snowden has been stranded for more than 20 days.
After Snowden filled it out, the form was then submitted to Russia’s Federal Migration Service, which has yet to comment on the application.
Kucherena told RT that Snowden did not indicate whether he intended to stay in Russia if granted asylum or head to one of the three Latin American countries — Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela — that have offered him asylum.
Yesterday, Vladimir Putin didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat. Describing him as an uninvited guest, Putin didn’t rule out an asylum grant, but made it clear he’d prefer to see Snowden move along:
He went on to distance Russia from Snowden and his political activities and, as on previous occasions when he has spoken about the case in public, avoided taking the opportunity to gloat at the United States’ failure to catch him.
“He came to our territory without invitation, we did not invite him. And we weren’t his final destination. He was flying in transit to other states. But the moment he was in the air … our American partners, in fact, blocked his further flight,” Putin said.
“They have spooked all the other countries, nobody wants to take him and in that way, in fact, they have themselves blocked him on our territory,” he said. …
“As soon as there is an opportunity for him to move elsewhere, I hope he will do that,” Putin said during a visit to Gogland Island in the Gulf of Finland.
“The conditions for (Russia) granting him political asylum are known to him. And judging by his latest actions, he is shifting his position. But the situation has not been clarified yet.”
Well, it’s clarified now, at least temporarily. This was Snowden’s only way out of the airport that didn’t involve extradition to the US, and his only opportunity to get to one of three Latin American countries that have offered him asylum on a permanent basis. He has to get to their embassies to procure travel paperwork that would allow him to leave the airport, and Russia has apparently decided not to provide him safe passage without asylum.
Of course, once he has asylum in Russia, Snowden might not need asylum anywhere else. He could get Russian travel papers and then avoid any countries with extradition treaties to the US in his future travels. That depends, though, on whether Snowden can count on Putin to block extradition after a temporary grant of immunity. Reuters notes in its account that Putin has taken care not to humiliate the US much — at least not lately — and Putin could be thinking of using Snowden as leverage with the US on other issues.
He’s still better off in terms of security in seeking asylum in South American countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, which have less-friendly relations with the US. Of course, those are also more oppressive regimes in terms of free speech and media operations, but a fugitive felon doesn’t get the luxury of a wide array of choices while on the lam, either.