After just over a month stuck in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, NSA leaker Edward Snowden appears to have finally received permission to cross over onto Russian soil, according to Russian media and wire services. The Russian lawyer who last week helped him request asylum told the state-funded network RT, "He’s planning to arrange his life here. He plans to get a job. And, I think, that all his further decisions will be made considering the situation he found himself in."
Russia's apparent decision to grant Snowden permission to enter the country -- though not yet asylum -- would seem to contradict earlier statements from Russian President Vladimir Putin urging the American fugitive to leave the country soon. Putin, however, had also said that Snowden could theoretically stay in Russia if he stopped leaking information that damaged the United States. Glenn Greenwald, a Guardian journalist who has worked with Snowden, has said that Snowden has information that could cause more "harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had."
The apparent permission to leave the airport and enter Russia comes as U.S. public opinion turns against Snowden. According to a new poll, 53 percent of Americans support charging him with a crime for his leaks, and 49 percent say he's damaged national security.
After an attention-grabbing flight from Hong Kong to Moscow on June 23, Snowden's options seemed to have dwindled. While several Latin American countries had earlier declared their interest in sheltering the leaker, getting him there proved problematic. When Bolivian President Evo Morales took a recent flight home from Moscow, his plane was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Vienna, where it was searched. Though fellow Latin American heads of state railed against the search, they have since made fewer and fewer public statements about Snowden. His hopes of reaching Latin America appear to be fading.
If Snowden does leave the transit zone, the next question will be whether or not he stays in Russia and for how long. If he's looking for a job, that certainly doesn't sound like he's planning a short-term stay.
As I wrote earlier, Russia has seemed like the safest option for Snowden, as its unique foreign policy and ideology make it perhaps the least likely to turn him over to the United States. Russia also has a long history of sheltering Western defectors and dissidents, although few appear to have found much success or happiness in exile there.
This saga may not be over yet. It's not clear whether Snowden will ultimately receive asylum from Russia, or where he'll go if he doesn't. If nothing else, it must be a relief to know that at least a life beyond the transit zone may finally be in sight.