The Washington Post

Russia is poised to permit Snowden to leave airport, official says

After a month camped out in a transit area of Moscow’s international airport, fugitive Edward Snowden on Wednesday received clean clothing and a copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” — but no final word that he would be allowed into the country after having leaked U.S. surveillance secrets, his lawyer said.

A Russian immigration official indicated Wednesday that his government would soon give the former National Security Agency contractor a document enabling him to leave Sheremetyevo Airport and stay in Russia temporarily, under tight official constraints.

Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela have offered to give Snowden refuge, but pressure from Washington and concerns that the United States or Europe might block him from traveling through their airspace have prevented the fugitive from leaving Russia. Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said Wednesday that his client, who has been charged in the United States with leaking classified information, has started to learn Russian and is preparing for an extended sojourn in the country.

Vladimir Volokh, head of the public council of the Russian Federal Migration Service, said Snowden would be handed a certificate stating that he had applied for political asylum.

Snowden would “only be allowed to stay in places designated by Russian law enforcement agencies,” Volokh told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

If Snowden’s request for temporary asylum is granted, a process likely to take at least three months, he would, in theory, have the freedom to get a job and move around the country.

Kucherena visited the airport Wednesday and said he brought Snowden some clothing because he has been wearing the same cotton shirt and pants for the last month. Kucherena said he also brought writings by Dostoyevsky and Anton Chekhov so that Snowden could familiarize himself with classic Russian literature.

Snowden is “very grateful to Russia for not banishing him and not betraying him,” said Kucherena, who described his client as an “extraordinary” person.

“He is just waiting,” the lawyer said. “He is trying to be brave.”

Snowden has been stranded in a tedious diplomatic limbo at the airport — without permission or documentation to officially enter Russia or travel to another country — since flying there from Hong Kong on June 23. His constricted circumstances are a bit like those of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, who is under investigation by the United States for disseminating leaked secrets and who has been holed up inside the Ecuadoran Embassy in London since June 2012.

Snowden has admitted giving reporters voluminous information about secret surveillance programs. He said he wanted to draw public attention to data-gathering that he believes violates privacy rights.

Although reporters rushed to the airport Wednesday as Russian media began reporting that Snowden had received the certificate he needed to leave, Kucherena said the departure would not happen before Thursday and could be later.

“He is staying in the transit zone in accordance with the existing regulations,” Kucherena said. “He is acting precisely within the framework of the regulations.”

Snowden’s situation “is unique for Russia, and we must understand that there have never been such cases or applications before,” the lawyer added. “There is a certain procedure, and the Federal Migration Service is obliged to comply with it.”

Snowden asked the Russian government for temporary asylum last week, adding another layer of complexity to U.S.-Russia relations, which are already strained over differences on the civil war in Syria, international adoptions and other issues.

President Vladimir Putin has said that, to be granted asylum, Snowden would have to stop releasing information that could harm the United States. Snowden has previously indicated that he sees life in Russia as a short-term solution and hopes eventually to move to Latin America.

“We are seeking clarity from Russian authorities about Mr. Snowden’s status and any change in it,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on its Web site that Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke Wednesday about “bilateral relations” and about preparations for a conference on a political settlement in Syria.

Michael Birnbaum in Berlin contributed to this report.

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