MOSCOW -- Edward Snowden's long sojourn at Moscow's international airport may be nearing an end.
“Any day now, Snowden may get an official confirmation from the Federal Migration Service" that his application for temporary asylum is being reviewed, his attorney, Anatoly Kucherena, said in an interview Wednesday with The Times. "With this document, he will be able at last to leave the airport and properly and legally enter Russia.”
Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information about U.S. Internet spying, is believed to have been biding his time for most of the last month in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport -- a notoriously dreary place that most travelers are happy to leave as quickly as possible.
He applied Tuesday for temporary shelter in Russia after President Vladimir Putin made it clear that he would not allow Snowden to be granted permanent political asylum unless the fugitive -- who is wanted by the United States on espionage charges -- stops leaking information that damages the U.S.
Putin reiterated Wednesday that he did not want Snowden's case to further damage Russia's already-frosty relations with the United States.
"We warned Mr. Snowden that any activity on his part causing damage to the Russian-U.S. relationship is unacceptable for us,” Putin told reporters in the far eastern Russian city of Chita. "Relations between countries, in my view, are more important than squabbles of special services," he said, using the Russian euphemism for intelligence agencies.
At the same time, the Russian leader implied again that Russia would not bow to U.S. pressure in the Snowden case. The United States has asked for Snowden's return, but lacks an extradition treaty with Russia.
“We cannot and we will not behave like many other countries,” Putin said. "We are an independent country and we have an independent foreign policy which we will continue to pursue. I hope our partners will take this calmly and with understanding."
Putin also reiterated that he expected Snowden to depart in the not-too-distant future. "As far as I can see, Snowden hasn’t set a goal to stay all his life in Russia," he said.
But Kucherena, Snowden's Russian lawyer, said that was a possibility.
If Snowden is granted temporary shelter, he will be allowed to stay for one year, "enjoying most rights of a regular Russian citizen, including the right to work," he said, adding that the law allows him to apply for extensions after that.
"In five years' time, provided Snowden is still in Russia, he can apply for Russian citizenship, a possibility he doesn’t rule out," the lawyer said. "In the meantime, Snowden will be able to freely move across Russia and live wherever he pleases in Russia."
Kucherena said Snowden would not be able to travel abroad without losing his refugee status in Russia.
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