Edward J. Snowden, the NSA leaker, has been granted temporary asylum by the Russian government. This allowed him to leave the Moscow airport transit zone where he had been holed up for more than five weeks, media reports say.
Snowden, 30, walked out of the Sheremetyevo Airport at 3:30 in the afternoon Thursday after his lawyer, Anatoly G. Kucherena, brought him the legal document granting him asylum for one year. His asylum is valid until July 31, 2014.
Snowden, in a statement issued by WikiLeaks, thanked Russia. He accused the United States of disregarding the law in its global manhunt to arrest him and said that “in the end, the law is winning.”
This development has infuriated US Government officials who had pleaded with Russian officials not to grant him asylum.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Russian Federation would take this step,” the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said in Washington. “Obviously, this is not a positive development.
He added that President Obama may reconsider his planned trip to Moscow in September. “We are evaluating the utility of a summit,” he said
Lawmakers have called for harsh retaliation for Russia’s action.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Russia of “stabbing us in the back.” He urged Obama to recommend moving the G-20 summit that is to take place in Russia this September.
“Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife,” Schumer said in a biting statement. He called Snowden a “coward.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) had said on Tuesday that President Barack Obama should consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia if the country granted Snowden asylum.
I would,” the South Carolina Republican had said. He added, “I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them. It might help, because what they’re doing is outrageous.”
He went on to say, “We certainly haven’t reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum, it’s a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States.”
According to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, an aide of Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Mr. Snowden’s fate was of “insignificant character.” He said it would not affect relations between the two countries.
He added that the Kremlin was aware that Mr. Obama might cancel his trip to Moscow but officials in the Kremlin had received no such official notification from Washington.
Dmitri S. Peskov, Kremlin’s spokesman said the decision to grant Snowden asylum had been made by immigration officials and not by Putin.
“It has nothing to do with the president or his administration,” Mr. Peskov said in an interview.
Peskov said Putin learned of the decision on Thursday. He said Putin had spent the day at his official residence on the outskirts of Moscow where he met the president of Tajikistan.
It is widely assumed in Russia that any decision with such potentially severe diplomatic costs would require approval from within the Kremlin.
Snowden, 30 faces espionage charges in the US for leaking details about National Security Agency programs that collected information on millions of Americans’ telephone calls and Internet activity.
Edward Snowden, who received asylum from Russia, had officially filed a request for temporary asylum in the country on Tuesday, promising to honor Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands that he stop leaking information that could damage the United States.
By Perviz Walji
Sources: CNN, New York Times, Business Insider