Snowden granted Russian asylum
TIMOTHY HERITAGE AND ALISSA DE CARBONNEL
Fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has claimed "the law is winning" after being granted a year's asylum by Russia.
Snowden slipped out of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in a cloak-and-dagger operation overseen by his Russian lawyer but unnoticed by the hordes of media trying to follow his every move.
"Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law but in the end the law is winning," the 30-year-old said in a statement issued by WikiLeaks today.
"I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations."
High-level talks between Russia and the United States scheduled for next week in Washington are "up in the air" and a September summit also is in doubt after Russia granted asylum to former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, US officials said.
"We see this as an unfortunate development and we are extremely disappointed by it," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Snowden, who had been working for the National Security Agency, is wanted in the United States for leaking details of government surveillance programs.
The United States is now "evaluating the utility" of an anticipated meeting between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September around the time of the G-20 international meeting, Carney said.
High-level talks scheduled for next week between US Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and their Russian counterparts also are now "up in the air," a US official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A Russian lawyer who has been assisting Snowden said the American, who is wanted in the United States for leaking details of secret government surveillance programmes, had gone to a safe location which would remain secret.
After 39 days avoiding hordes of reporters desperate for a glimpse of him, Snowden managed to give them the slip again, leaving the airport in a taxi without being spotted.
Snowden's father thanked President Vladimir Putin after Russia granted his son a year's temporary asylum.
"I am so thankful to the Russian nation and President Vladimir Putin," Lonnie Snowden told a state television channel in an interview, in which his comments were dubbed into Russian.
Snowden's case has caused new strains in relations between Russia and the United States, which wants him extradited to face espionage charges. But a Kremlin official said ties would not suffer from what he called a "relatively insignificant" case.
Grainy images on Russian television showed Snowden's new document, which is similar to a Russian passport, and revealed that he had been granted asylum for a year from July 31.
"He is the most wanted man on planet Earth. What do you think he is going to do? He has to think about his personal security. I cannot tell you where he is going," his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told Reuters.
"I put him in a taxi 15 to 20 minutes ago and gave him his certificate on getting refugee status in the Russian Federation," he said. "He can live wherever he wants in Russia. It's his personal choice."
He said Snowden, who had his US passport revoked by Washington after he fled to Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23, was not going to stay at an embassy in Moscow, although three Latin American countries have offered to shelter him.
Snowden, 30, was accompanied by Sarah Harrison, a representative of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which confirmed he had left the airport.
"We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden. We have won the battle - now the war," WikiLeaks said on Twitter.
Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela have offered Snowden refuge, but there are no direct commercial flights to Latin America from Moscow and he was concerned the United States would intercept his flight to prevent him reaching a new destination.
He was forced to bide his time in the transit area between the runway and passport control, which Russia considers neutral territory. Kucherena had given Snowden Russian books to help pass the time and says he has started learning Russian.
STRAINS IN TIES
The White House has signalled that President Barack Obama might consider boycotting a planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in early September over the Snowden case.
But a senior Kremlin official played down concerns.
"Our president has ... expressed hope many times that this will not affect the character of our relations," Yuri Ushakov, Putin's top foreign policy adviser, told reporters shortly after news of Snowden's departure from the airport.
He said there was no sign that US President Barack Obama would cancel the planned visit in September.
It is not clear what Snowden plans to do in Russia, although he has said he would like to travel around the country.
More than half of Russians have a positive opinion of Snowden and 43 percent wanted him to be granted asylum, a poll released by independent research group Levada said this week.
Snowden's arrival at Sheremetyevo put Putin in an awkward position. He has said he does not want the case to undermine relations with Washington but would have risked looking weak if he had handed him over to the US authorities.
Both Russia and the United States have signalled they want to improve ties, strained by issues ranging from the Syrian conflict to Putin's treatment of opponents and Western-funded non-governmental organisations since he started a third term in 2012.
Putin has said Snowden must stop anti-US activities, but it was not clear whether the American had agreed to do so.
Snowden has said previously that he does not regard his activities as hostile to the United States, although Kucherena has said his client has agreed to halt such actions.
There has already been diplomatic fallout from Snowden's leaks, which included information that the US National Security Agency bugged European Union offices and gained access to EU internal computer networks, even though the EU is an ally.
China, Brazil and France have also voiced concern over the spying programme.
US relations with Latin American states have been clouded by the refusal of four US allies in Europe to let a plane carrying Bolivia's president home from Moscow use their airspace because of suspicion that Snowden might be on the plane.
EDWARD SNOWDEN TIMELINE
May 20 - Snowden leaves Hawaii for Hong Kong.
June 1 - Snowden offers details of US spying programmes to Britain's Guardian newspaper. Stories are published in Britain and the United States, including on the existence of the programme Prism and a court order to force telecoms company Verizon to hand over phone records of millions of Americans.
June 9 - Snowden goes public.
June 23 - Snowden arrives at Sheremetyevo airport with Sarah Harrison, a British legal researcher for WikiLeaks anti-secrecy group.
June 24 - Snowden has seat booked for an Aeroflot flight to Havana but does not board.
June 25 - President Vladimir Putin says Moscow will not hand him over to the United States. The White House urges Russia to expel Snowden without delay.
June 26 - The US Justice Department accuses Hong Kong of feigning confusion over Snowden's middle name so as not to detain him in May.
June 27 - China responds by accusing the United States of hypocrisy in the area of cyber security based on Snowden's revelations of US National Security Agency activity in China.
June 27 - US President Barack Obama says Russia or other countries considering asylum requests for Snowden should follow international law.
July 1 - Putin signals that Snowden can stay in Russia, if he stops "harming our American partners". Snowden says he remains free to continue leaking data that "serves public interest" and he is seeking asylum in several countries, including Russia.
July 2 - Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Snowden withdraws his request for political asylum.
July 3 - Bolivian President Evo Morales'sn plane is diverted on its way home from Moscow. It has to make an unscheduled stopover in Austria after there were "unfounded suspicions" that Snowden was on board.
July 5 - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says he will offer asylum to Snowden. Nicaraguan head Daniel Ortega says his country could grant asylum "if circumstances permit".
July 6 - Bolivia's Morales says he would grant Snowden asylum if he asked.
July 12 - Snowden meets human rights campaigners at the airport and says he will seek temporary asylum in Russia. US State Department says giving him asylum would raise concerns in relations with Russia.
July 15 - Putin says he sees signs Snowden is shifting towards stopping "political activity" against the United States.
July 16 - Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena says he asked for temporary asylum in Russia. The White House reiterates Snowden should be returned to the United States to face trial.
July 17 - Putin signals he does not want to disrupt relations with Washington over the fate of Snowden.
July 19 - Kremlin says it unaware of any plans by Snowden to seek Russian passport.
July 22 - Lawyer Kucherena says hopes Snowden will be able to leave the airport transit zone by Wednesday.
July 24 - Airport official says Russian federal immigration service has granted Snowden papers allowing him to exit the airport and they would be handed to him by Kucherena.
August 1 - Snowden leaves the airport after receiving temporary asylum in Russia that expires on July 31, 2014.
Putin's senior foreign policy aide says Snowden case is too insignificant to hurt bilateral ties with the United States and that the Kremlin had no signs that Obama would cancel a planned visit to Moscow in September over the case.
- AAP, Reuters