NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia and has left the Moscow airport where he has been staying since June, his lawyer and airport officials said Thursday.
Snowden's legal representative Anatoly Kucherena, told reporters: “I have just handed over to him papers from the Russian Immigration Service. They are what he needs to leave the transit zone.”
According to the document, Snowden is free to stay in Russia until at least July 31, 2014. His asylum status may be extended annually upon request.
Snowden departed at around 3:30 p.m. Moscow time (11:30 GMT), airport sources said. His departure came some 30 minutes before his new refugee status was officially announced, reported RT news.
His present location has not been made public, Kucherena said, and will remain secret. “He is the most wanted person on earth and his security will be a priority,” the attorney explained. “He will deal with personal security issues and lodging himself. I will just consult him as his lawyer.”
RT quoted Kucherena as saying that Snowden was unaccompanied when he left the airport in a regular taxi, but WikiLeaks contradicted the lawyer, saying the organization’s activist Sarah Harrison accompanied Snowden.
Russia is confident that the latest development in the Snowden case will not affect US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Moscow, presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said.
“We are aware of the atmosphere being created in the US over Snowden, but we didn’t get any signals [indicating a possible cancellation of the visit] from American authorities,” he told RIA Novosti.
The US has charged Snowden with leaking details of its electronic surveillance programs. He arrived in Moscow on June 23 from Hong Kong.
Despite the heavy presence of news organisations at the airport, his departure was apparently not spotted by media.