The application is for temporary refuge, not permanent political asylum, according to human rights activists familiar with his case.
“It is a compromise step as Russia doesn’t want to utterly spoil its relations with the United States as tense as they are,” said Olga Kostina, head of the rights organization Soprotivleniye. She was among a number of human rights advocates who met with Snowden on Friday at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, where he has been staying since his arrival from Hong Kong more than three weeks ago.
Wikileaks, which has been advising Snowden, posted this tweet announcing his move:
WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) July 16, 2013
A Russian attorney who has been representing Snowden said he was with him when he made the application.
“He filled this application in my presence, as there were many legislative and legal questions,” Anatoly Kucherena told the RIA-Novosti news agency after meeting with Snowden at the airport's transit zone. “It was his condition that I come to meet with him.”
The Federal Migration Service, which has an office at Sheremetyevo, confirmed that it received the application.
Kostina said that the temporary refugee status could be granted to Snowden within three months, which could allow him to leave the airport and move to a special center for temporary refugees.
“It is a good way out for Snowden in the given situation because it could give him more time to decide what to do next,” she said. “He told us last Friday that he wanted to travel to one of the countries in Latin America which were ready to grant him political asylum, but considerations of personal security prevailed and he realized that it would be safe for him to stay in Russia even temporarily.”
The presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have all said that Snowden would be welcome in their countries. It is not clear how he would reach a Latin American refuge without subjecting himself to arrest by the United States en route, although there has been speculation that he could go through Cuba.
Snowden is wanted on espionage charges for leaking highly sensitive classified data about the NSA's surveillance of international Internet and telephone accounts.
The effort at a temporary resolution of his situation will allow the Kremlin to formally stay away from Snowden’s situation, Kostina said. A request for political asylum would have to be decided by Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, she said. Putin has said Snowden will not be granted asylum in Russia unless he agrees to stop his political activities, which he is unwilling to do.
“If we are talking about temporary shelter, this is not the president’s issue, Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Tuesday. “This issue will be decided on the level of the Federal Migration Service.”