Snowden remains in Moscow airport limbo
US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden on Wednesday failed to emerge from his month-long stay in a Moscow airport transit zone, despite expectations he had finally received permission from the authorities to enter Russia.
Hordes of media descended on Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after reports that Snowden, who has applied for asylum in Russia, had received the document allowing him to formally cross the Russian border.
But pro-Kremlin lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, who has been helping the American fugitive with his asylum request and met Snowden Wednesday, appeared before the press without the world’s most famous fugitive.
“As of today, this document (allowing him to leave) has not yet been given (to him),” Kucherena told reporters.
“This is the first such situation in Russia,” the lawyer said, explaining the long-drawn-out legal process.
The confusion comes at a sensitive time for Moscow’s relations with Washington, which wants to prosecute the former National Security Agency (NSA) employee on espionage charges for revealing a vast spying programme.
The White House said after Kucherena’s comments that it wanted “clarity” on Snowden’s status.
“No one has refused Edward anything but unfortunately the situation that has developed is really not standard for Russia,” said Kucherena.
“You need to take into consideration our bureaucracy,” he said, adding that the state migration service confirmed to Kucherena that the documents were “under consideration.”
“He is here, he lives here. He is here at the transit zone,” he said, adding that the question of when Snowden would leave the airport was so far “undecided”.
Last week Snowden had applied for temporary asylum in Russia and was set this week to receive a document allowing him to formally cross the border while his asylum request was being processed.
Earlier in the day, all three Russian news agencies said that Snowden was set Wednesday to receive a document that would allow him to leave the transit zone where he has been marooned since arriving from Hong Kong as a transit passenger on June 23.
There was no explanation for why the plan appeared to have been thwarted at the last minute.
Russia has defied US calls to extradite the leaker whose extended stay in the Moscow airport could even derail a bilateral summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama in Moscow in early September.
— ‘I bought him Crime and Punishment’ —
Breaking his silence for the first time since arriving from Hong Kong, Snowden on July 12 summoned several rights activists and Kremlin-friendly lawyers, telling them he would apply for asylum in Russia and asking them to petition Putin on his behalf.
The Kremlin has sought to keep Snowden’s case at arm’s length but observers said the activists’ meeting at the state-controlled airport would have never been possible without government involvement.
Kucherena said on Wednesday he had brought Snowden jeans, shirts and T-shirts as well as several books by Russian classic writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Anton Chekhov.
“I bought him Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’,” he said in televised remarks.
He said Snowden had started learning Russian. “He said ‘privet’ (hello), he said ‘poka poka’ (bye-bye) and he said ‘ya tebe pozvonyu’ (I will call you).”
Kucherena reiterated that Snowden wanted to remain in Russia. “He plans to study Russian culture.”
The lawyer added that while Snowden had so far had the money to continue his stay at the airport, several fundraising attempts were underway to collect money for the American.
Kucherena said he even received a call from a woman who was willing to adopt him as well as a deluge of calls from women offering him marriage.
“He burst into laughter when I told him about it,” the lawyer told reporters.
Kucherena has said Snowden may even apply for Russian citizenship and is interested in looking for work in Russia.
After arriving in Russia on June 23, the former contractor for the National Security Agency was checked-in to fly on to Cuba the next day but he never boarded the plane to Havana.
He ended up marooned at the Moscow airport after the United States revoked his passport.
With the help of Sarah Harrison, an employee of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, the 30-year-old applied for asylum in 27 countries but most of the nations denied him a safe haven under pressure from Washington.
Three countries in Latin America known for their anti-US stance — Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela — have said they would be willing to give refuge to Snowden.