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NSA Leaker Snowden Granted One-Year Asylum In Russia


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. Former U.S. intelligence analyst Edward Snowden is officially on Russian soil. He has spent more than a month in a Moscow airport transit zone. Today, the 30-year-old fugitive got a certificate granting him one year of asylum. As NPR's Corey Flintoff reports, the decision to offer Snowden refuge comes with risks for Russia.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: For the past couple of weeks, the person doing the talking for Edward Snowden has been Anatoli Kucherena, a well known Russian lawyer with connections to the Kremlin. He usually basks in the limelight, but today, Kucherena was unusually terse.

ANATOLI KUCHERENA: (Speaking foreign language)

FLINTOFF: Kucherena displayed a copy of the certificate that grants Snowden temporary asylum and gives him a legal identity after the United States annulled his passport in June. The attorney said that Snowden had just left the airport for what he described as a safe place. He said the location would not be disclosed because of concerns for the security of the person he described as one of the most sought after men in the world.

Snowden is wanted in the United States for revealing secrets about U.S. surveillance programs, a point that was underlined yesterday when the British newspaper, The Guardian, published another story based on documents that Snowden provided. Security analyst Fyodor Lukyanov says Russian officials are taking a risk by allowing Snowden into the country.

FYODOR LUKYANOV: People like Snowden are quite special. They are driven by, I don't know what, by several motivations and they are not that much under control by anybody.

FLINTOFF: President Vladimir Putin has said repeatedly that Snowden may only stay in Russia if he stops all activities that could damage the United States. But Lukyanov, who's editor and chief of the journal Russia In Global Affairs, says there's no knowing what Snowden may have already released to The Guardian, information that could continue to embarrass the U.S. government.

Some Russians applauded the move as a necessary moral stand. This is Veronika Krasheninnikova, a member of the Russian government oversight group the Public Chamber. She says she's proud that Russia was able to offer asylum to Snowden and accuses President Obama of abandoning his own principles.

VERONIKA KRASHENINNIKOVA: What's surprising in this situation is that the constitutional lawyer, Barack Obama, would take the position that the man who reveals these violations of American constitutional rights to privacy should be persecuted by the government.

FLINTOFF: White House spokesman Jay Carney said today that the United States was extremely disappointed by Russia's decision. When asked whether President Obama would still go to the G20 Summit in Russia in September, Carney had this to say.

JAY CARNEY: Obviously, this is not a positive development and we have a wide range of interests with the Russians and we are evaluating the utility of the summit.

FLINTOFF: But Lukyanov says that even with the threat that Obama might decide to snub the summit, Russia was left with few options on Snowden.

LUKYANOV: I think Russia had no choice but to grant him asylum because he could not, of course for political and moral reasons, he could not be extradited to the United States.

FLINTOFF: The political reason being that Putin doesn't want to be seen as caving in to U.S. pressure and the moral reason being that Russia wants to be seen as supporting human rights. In the meantime, Edward Snowden has a certificate that allows him to remain in Russia for up to one year, renewable indefinitely. His lawyer says that he's making arrangements for Snowden's father to come visit him soon.

The lawyer also says that Russia's newest refugee will hold a news conference, but needs some time before he does so. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.