Russia gives asylum to leaker Snowden
Anatoly Kucherena, an attorney for Snowden, said documents were issued Thursday allowing Snowden to live and work in Russia for up to one year while his application for permanent political asylum is pending. Snowden, 30, had been stranded in Russia's Sheremetyevo Airport for more than five weeks.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama is "extremely disappointed" by Russia's action and is reevaluating a planned trip to Moscow next month for a summit meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
On Capitol Hill, U.S. lawmakers reacted furiously to the development, warning of serious repercussions in U.S.-Russian relations.
Kucherena did not reveal where Snowden was bound, saying that although he was ready to provide advice, it was up to his client to decide where to live.
The antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks said in a statement that Snowden left the airport with the group's legal adviser, Sarah Harrison, and "headed to a secure, confidential place." The statement quoted Snowden as thanking Russia "for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations" and accusing the Obama administration of showing "no respect for international or domestic law."
Kucherena said arrangements were being made for Snowden's father to visit him in Russia, the Associated Press reported. In an interview with the Washington Post on Tuesday, Lon Snowden said he was eager to speak with his son but had refused an FBI offer to fly him to Moscow while his son was trapped at the airport, because U.S. authorities could not guarantee that the two would be able to meet.
"If he comes back to the United States, he is going to be treated horribly," Lon Snowden said. "He is going to be thrown into a hole. He is not going to be allowed to speak."
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, said he was convinced that Russia could guarantee the security of Snowden but would probably prevent him from meeting with foreign media.
"Snowden could be at a dacha outside Moscow or shipped off to a seaside or ski resort, but the likes of you will probably never find out where he is," Trenin said. "Russia is a vast place."
In a White House news briefing dominated by questions about Snowden, Carney said, "We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step" despite "ample legal justification" for expelling Snowden from Russia and returning him to the United States. "This move by the Russian government undermines a long-standing record of law enforcement cooperation" that has "recently been on the upswing" since the Boston Marathon bombings in April.
Snowden "is not a dissident," Carney said. "He is not a whistle-blower. He has been charged with a crime." He referred to three felony counts for leaking classified information about secret telephone and e-mail surveillance programs.
In response to a question about whether Obama would attend the September summit in Moscow, Carney said, "Obviously this is not a positive development . . . and we are evaluating the utility of the summit."
Carney also said that Snowden "has been . . . in possession of classified information in China and in Russia," which is "both a huge risk and a violation" of U.S. law.
Asked about demands from lawmakers for retaliation against Russia, Carney, "I am not going to speculate about consequences or next steps."
Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin official, told reporters Thursday that the "relatively insignificant case" of Snowden would not harm ties between Russia and the United States. Speaking before the White House reacted to the Russian move, he said there was no sign that Obama would cancel his planned trip to Moscow in September.
But Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, slammed the decision to grant Snowden temporary asylum as a "setback" for U.S.-Russian relations. Snowden is "a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia," he said in a statement.
"Edward Snowden will potentially do great damage to U.S. national security interests, and the information he is leaking could aid terrorists and others around the world who want to do real harm to our country," Menendez said. "Russia must return Snowden to face trial at home."
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) called Russia's action "a disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States," as well as "a slap in the face of all Americans."