MOSCOW -- Edward Snowden finally managed to break free of his confinement at the transit zone of Moscow’s international airport when he was granted Russian travel documents Thursday, after which he hopped in a cab and left for a secret location, his Russian lawyer said.
“Edward was granted a one-year asylum and I just saw him to a taxi out of the airport,” Anatoly Kucherena said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It is up to him to choose a residence inside Russia, but his location will remain secret for the duration of his stay.”
“For the most wanted man on earth,” Kucherena added, “personal safety is his No. 1 priority now.”
Snowden, who is wanted by the United States for leaking highly classified documents from his work as a consultant for the National Security Agency, had been effectively trapped at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport since June 23, when he arrived on a flight from Hong Kong. He was intending to change planes in Moscow, apparently for Latin America, but was caught in limbo when the United States canceled his passport.
His presence at the airport became a high-stakes international issue, drawing the close attention of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said Snowden was welcome to stay in Russia so long as he promised to stop leaking sensitive data. Snowden’s leaks, primarily published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, have shed light on the extent of U.S. surveillance of the Internet and telephone communications.
On Wednesday, the Guardian published a new report based on information from Snowden, but according to the Associated Press, Kucherena said the material was provided before Snowden promised to stop leaking.
His airport sojourn ended when Russia’s Federal Migration Service issued an identification document to Snowden, slightly resembling a Russian foreign travel passport. The document expires on July 31, 2014.
Kucherena said that the document may be extended indefinitely on an annual basis but would be canceled if Snowden leaves the country.
On his taxi ride from the airport Snowden was accompanied by Sarah Harrison, a legal advisor for the WikiLeaks organization, which has been assisting Snowden.
It didn’t take long for Washington to register dissatisfaction with the Russian decision to admit Snowden.
“Edward Snowden is a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement issued by his office. “Regardless of the fact that Russia is granting asylum for one year, this action is a setback to U.S.-Russia relations. 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.”
“Russia must return Snowden to face trial at home,” the senator insisted.
However, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told the RIA Novosti news agency that the Kremlin doesn’t expect Snowden’s presence to harm U.S.- Russian relations.
“This issue is too insignificant to influence political relations,” Ushakov said.
Asked whether Russia’s decision to admit Snowden could prompt President Obama to cancel his forthcoming visit to Russia, Ushakov said: “We know what kind of atmosphere is being formed in the United States around it, but we haven’t got any signal from the U.S. administration.”
On Wednesday, in an interview with Russian television, Snowden’s father, Lon Snowden, expressed a desire to come to Moscow to see his son.
“I am now preparing an invitation for Edward’s father,” Kucherena said.