MOSCOW (TIP): A long wait for US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport’s transit zone ended with Russia granting him temporary asylum, July 31. Snowden has been staying in the transit zone of the airport since June 23 after having arrived from Hong Kong. Snowden’s lawyer said Snowden had left the airport’s transit zone after receiving the papers he needed to enter Russian territory. The US has charged Snowden with leaking details of its electronic surveillance programs. Russia’s decision is likely to further strain its ties with the US.
Snowden later issued a statement via the website of the whistleblowing organization Wikileaks thanking Russia for granting him asylum and accusing the US government of showing “no respect” for international law. “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. US Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described Thursday’s development as “a setback to US-Russia relations”.
“Edward Snowden is a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia,” he said. Republican Senator John McCain also issued a stinging rebuke, saying Russia’s actions were “a disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States”. “It is a slap in the face of all Americans. Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with [President] Putin’s Russia. We need to deal with the Russia that is, not the Russia we might wish for,” he said.
Snowden arrived in Moscow on 23 June from Hong Kong, after making his revelations. The affair has caused diplomatic ructions around the world. His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said: “His location is not being made public for security reasons, since he is the most pursued man on the planet. “He himself will decide where he will go.” Wikileaks, which has been helping him since he made his revelations, said in a tweet that he had been given asylum.
“Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia for a year and has now left Moscow airport under the care of Wikileaks’ Sarah Harrison,” it said. Ms Harrison is a member of the Wikileaks legal team and has been helping Snowden. Kucherena also said he had been awarded temporary asylum and showed a photocopy of the document issued to his client. The document, which resembles a Russian ID card and features a fingerprint, shows an issue date of 31 July and expiry date of 31 July 2014.
US Attorney General Eric Holder has given Moscow an assurance that Snowden will not face the death penalty if extradited. But the Russians say they do not intend to hand him over. Russian President Vladimir Putin said previously that Snowden could receive asylum in Russia on condition he stopped leaking US secrets. Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov said the situation was “rather insignificant” and should not influence relations with the US.
“We know what sort of noise surrounds this [situation] in America, but we have not received any signals from the United States,” he said. US President Barack Obama is due to visit Moscow next month. Among the information leaked by Snowden, which first surfaced in the UK’s Guardian newspaper in early June, was the revelation that the NSA was collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans.
The systems analyst also disclosed that the NSA had tapped directly into the servers of nine internet firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to track online communication in a surveillance program known as Prism. Prism was allegedly also used by Britain’s electronic eavesdropping agency, GCHQ. The agency was further accused of sharing vast amounts of data with the NSA. Allegations that the NSA had spied on its EU allies caused indignation in Europe.
Snowden leaks timeline
● 5 June: First leak published in the Guardian saying the NSA is collecting the telephone records of millions of Americans
● 6 June: Details of the published by Guardian and Washington Post
● 9 June: Guardian identifies Edward Snowden as source of the leaks, at his own request
● 14 June: US files criminal charges against Snowden
● 23 June: Snowden leaves Hong Kong for Moscow, applies for asylum in Ecuador
● 2 July: Bolivian leader Evo Morales’ plane apparently searched for Snowden
● 6 July: Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua say they would offer Snowden asylum
● 12 July Snowden gives news conference saying he is seeking asylum in Russia