Obama administration officials denounced the decision to protect Snowden and hinted of repercussions, perhaps including the cancellation of a planned summit between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reaction from Congress was far harsher, with key lawmakers from both sides calling for a fundamental rethinking of relations with Moscow.
“Russia has stabbed us in the back,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY). “Each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife.”
For Snowden, 30, the asylum decision was a reprieve from extradition and the prospect of a trial in the United States. But his refugee status opens the possibility of direct meetings between him and U.S. officials to discuss the treatment he could face if he returned home voluntarily.
The former technical contractor and admitted leaker of NSA documents has signaled that he intends to stay. One of his attorneys said Snowden has discussed taking language classes and perhaps finding work in Russia, a country that has a history of harshly repressing its government critics as well as a record of mistreating other U.S. citizens who have sought asylum there.
Indeed, one of the few bright spots for U.S. officials was that Snowden’s behavior — including his ability to release additional secrets — is certain to be tightly controlled by his new hosts, in contrast with the freedoms he may have had in one of the Latin American countries that offered him asylum, former U.S. officials and Russia experts said.
“He will likely live under very restricted conditions with a lot of surveillance,” said Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russian and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “If he steps out of line, Putin will crush him like a bug.”
The day’s developments began with an announcement by Anatoly Kucherena, an attorney for Snowden, that Russian authorities had granted a request for temporary refugee status. The approval allows the former Maryland resident to live and work in Russia while his application for permanent political asylum is considered. Until Thursday, Snowden had been in limbo in the transit area of Moscow’s sprawling Sheremetyevo International Airport, with his exact whereabouts known only to his attorneys and a handful of Russian officials.