MOSCOW, August 1 (RIA Novosti) – Edward Snowden, the US former intelligence contractor who has been holed up in a Moscow airport for more than a month, has been granted temporary asylum and finally left the airport Thursday, a Russian lawyer who has been helping the US fugitive said.
Anatoly Kucherena told RIA Novosti he had given Snowden an official document granting one year’s temporary asylum in Russia, allowing him to leave the Sheremetyevo Airport transit zone where he has been staying since arriving in Moscow on a flight from Hong Kong on June 23.
A source at Sheremetyevo confirmed that Snowden had left the airport, with a security official saying he crossed the border into Russia around 3:30 p.m. Moscow time. Kucherena said Snowden had left the airport in an ordinary taxi “for a safe place,” but said his whereabouts would not be disclosed, as he is one of the world’s most wanted fugitives.
“The issue of security is a very serious matter for him,” the lawyer added.
Kucherena noted that Russian law gives Snowden the right to choose where he will live in Russia, but, in addition to security, money could play a role in the choice of locale and accommodations, as Snowden “really [doesn’t have] much of it.”
Snowden is wanted in the United States on espionage and theft charges after leaking classified information about the US National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. He applied for temporary asylum in Russia on July 16. Washington has repeatedly called on Moscow to reject Snowden’s request and send him back to the United States to stand trial.
Kucherena said Snowden would undergo an “adaptation course” Thursday, “because he has been in the transit zone for quite a long time.” It was not immediately clear what the course would entail or, indeed, whether the phrase was meant literally or figuratively.
The free-speech advocacy group WikiLeaks said via Twitter that Snowden had left the airport “under the care of WikiLeaks’ Sarah Harrison,” who reportedly flew in to Moscow together with Snowden back in June.
“We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden,” the organization wrote on its Twitter page. “We have won the battle – now the war.”
Updated with additional comments from Kucherena and WikiLeaks.