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Edward Snowden plans to stay in Russia, says lawyer
Wednesday, 24 July 2013 19:51

Despite contrary reports, lawyer for whistleblower says his asylum status is unresolved and he will remain in Russia

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has not had his asylum status resolved and he intends to remain in Russia long-term, his lawyer has said. Previously, Snowden told local officials he planned to move on to South America as soon as possible.

Anatoly Kucherena, who was visiting Snowden at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Wednesday, said he was staying in the transit zone "for now". According to the lawyer, migration officials had said that they are looking at his asylum request, but had not issued the expected confirmation certificate that would allow Snowden to leave the airport. The process of issuing it has been drawn out, he said.

"Unfortunately the current situation is a truly unique one for Russia, and we have to account for the bureaucracy [involved in the process], so his documents are still being looked over," Kucherena told the many journalists assembled at the airport.

Law enforcement and airport sources had earlier said Snowden had been issued documents confirming his asylum request was being considered, and state news agency Interfax reported that he had submitted them at the border control. Instead, the lawyer had only brought Snowden books and clothing, he said.

Snowden is seeking to remain in the country and "wants to find work in Russia, travel and somehow create a life for himself," Kucherena told the television station Rossiya 24. He said the whistleblower had already begun learning the Russian language.

Snowden is applying for temporary asylum. Kucherena said a decision must be reached over the request within three months, although he expected the issue to be resolved sooner.

The lawyer said Snowden was "neither happy nor sad" but was eagerly awaiting an answer.

The US has been seeking Snowden's extradition to face felony charges for leaking details of US surveillance programmes. Russia has refused to hand him over, while denying it had anything to do with his travel plans.

Kucherena is a member of the Public Council of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, which lends fuel to speculations that Snowden's stay is being handled by Russia's intelligence services.

Snowden was stranded in the Moscow airport transit zone, which is technically not Russian territory, on 23 June, after US authorities annulled his passport while he was travelling from Hong Kong. Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin reportedly discussed the issue during a phone call in mid-July. Snowden's stay in Russia has strained relations between the two countries, with Obama reportedly reconsidering a visit planned for this autumn.

In a meeting with government and human rights officials on 12 July, Snowden announced he would seek temporary asylum in Russia while hoping to eventually travel on to South America, where Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have said they would offer him asylum. The US has prevented him from flying there, Snowden said, apparently referring to the possibility that any flight carrying him would be forced to land by the US or its allies.

Kucherena said he bought Snowden pizza and gave him new clothes and books to get acquainted with the Russian mentality and "our reality of life". Specifically, he gave the American a Fyodor Dostoevsky classic, as well as works by Anton Chekhov "for dessert".

"I bought him Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment because I think that he needs to read about Raskolnikov killing the old woman pawnbroker," Kucherena said. "I don't want to say that [Raskolnikov's] inner conflicts are similar, but nonetheless this world classic will be interesting for him."

News of the books provoked ribaldry on Twitter among those following the events, with jokes that Snowden won't be allowed to leave the airport until he finishes reading them.

Snowden is also learning Russian and told Kucherena "hi," "bye-bye" and "I'll call you" in Russian during their meeting, the lawyer told Rossiya 24.

Former immigration service head Vladimir Volokh said on Tuesday it was likely Snowden would not be allowed to move freely about the country while his asylum request was approved due to concerns for his safety.

"Legally he won't be forbidden [to move about], but the main question here is guaranteeing his safety," Volokh told radio station Kommersant FM.

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source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/24/edward-snowden-stay-russia-lawyer