Snowden Remains at Airport as Ordeal Enters Second Month
Edward Snowden will stay at Sheremetyevo Airport as Russian authorities review the fugitive American’s asylum bid, extending his monthlong confinement in the transit zone, his Moscow-based lawyer said.
Snowden, who arrived from Hong Kong on June 23, is awaiting a document from the Federal Migration Service that will enable him to cross Russia’s border and exit the airport, Anatoly Kucherena told reporters in Moscow yesterday after leaving the transit zone where he met with Snowden.
The 30-year-old former U.S. contractor, whose efforts to reach a haven in Latin America have been blocked by the U.S. and its European allies, applied for a 12-month renewable refugee status in Russia on July 16. Authorities have as long as three months to consider the request, according to Kucherena.
“It’s a unique situation for Russia, let’s understand that,” Kucherena said. “There are no precedents and no similar requests have ever been made. That’s why there’s a procedure that the Federal Migration Service must follow.”
The lawyer’s comments contradicted earlier reports that Snowden was slated to receive the required document yesterday. U.S. President Barack Obama’s spokesman indicated that the Russian government hadn’t notified the administration about any changes in the case.
“We are seeking clarity from the Russian authorities about Mr. Snowden’s status or any changes,” Jay Carney told reporters traveling with Obama aboard Air Force One to a speech.
Snowden, who exposed classified U.S. programs that collect telephone and Internet data, has been seeking asylum around the world as American authorities press for his return to face prosecution.
While Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia have indicated they’d be willing to accept him, Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the U.S. of stranding Snowden in Moscow by putting pressure on other countries to deny him refuge and prevent his travel through their airspace.
The American’s presence in Russia has raised tensions with the U.S. weeks before Putin and Obama are due to hold a summit in Moscow in early September ahead of a meeting of Group of 20 nations. The Obama administration has repeatedly urged Russia to send Snowden to the U.S.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday and “reiterated our belief, the belief of the United States, that Mr. Snowden needs to be returned to the United States,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“Any move that would allow Mr. Snowden to depart the airport would be deeply disappointing,” Psaki said. “Our belief is the only place he should be moving is back to the United States.”
Carney, asked by reporters about any Obama meeting with Putin, said only that the president “intends to travel to Russia for the G-20 summit.”
Kucherena, who said he brought Snowden a change of clothes and a pizza, briefed reporters in the arrival hall of Sheremetyevo’s Terminal E, outside the transit zone where the fugitive has been confined. Snowden has enough money and isn’t complaining about his living conditions, the lawyer said.
While reporters have combed the 76,000-square meter terminal for weeks, there has been no confirmed sighting of the former U.S. contractor since he arrived in Moscow a month ago.
The transit zone has free Wi-Fi access, several restaurants including a Burger King and duty-free shopping for anyone carrying a boarding pass. A capsule hotel in the terminal charges 7,600 rubles ($233) a night for a single room. There are also business-class and VIP lounges, according to a map on the airport’s website.
Kucherena, who said last week that he brought the American a book to learn the Russian alphabet with pictures, said yesterday he gave Snowden a collection of stories by Anton Chekhov and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” He has learned to say three words and phrases in Russian, including “hello,” “bye-bye” and “I’ll call you,” Kucherena said.
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