Vladimir Putin on Monday granted US fugitive Edward Snowden a massive lifeline — but authorities have warned he could end up in even deeper trouble.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin has granted Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, the man who exposed massive surveillance by the US National Security Agency on Americans before fleeing to Russia.
A presidential decree published Monday included Edward Joseph Snowden, born June 21, 1983, on a list of newly minted Russian citizens, at a time when relations between Washington and Moscow are at historic lows over the conflict in Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told news agencies that Snowden had received Russian citizenship as a result of his own request.
Snowden said in November 2020 he had applied for Russian citizenship but that he would aim to keep his US nationality.
However, his new status has come at an uncomfortable time — right when Russia has begun mobilising troops within its borders to replace those lost in seven months of fighting in Ukraine.
Snowden, a former American intelligence contractor, leaked secret documents to media in 2013, revealing that the NSA was collecting massive amounts of communications metadata and other information on US citizens, in violation of their constitutional right to privacy.
The expose of the NSA’s secret spying program led to laws and regulations forbidding that activity.
After revealing those secrets, Snowden sought refuge in Russia. Moscow several years ago relaxed its strict citizenship laws to allow individuals to hold Russian passports without rejecting their original nationalities.
Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that his spouse Lindsay Mills would also now apply for Russian citizenship. Their daughter already has a Russian passport, having been born in the country.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that Snowden, who has been charged with multiple felonies in US court, retains his US citizenship.
“I’m not aware of any change in his citizenship status,” Price said.
“The only thing that has changed is that as a result of his Russian citizenship, apparently now he may well be conscripted to fight in the reckless war [in Ukraine].”
Putin last week announced a mobilisation of 300,000 Russian reservists to contribute to the Russian army’s fight in Ukraine.
However, Kucherena said that Snowden would not be called up to serve given he had no prior experience in the Russian army.
The White House did not comment directly on Snowden’s Russian citizenship.
“Since I believe there have been criminal charges brought against him, we would point you to the Department of Justice for any specifics on this,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
After he sought refuge in Russia, the US Justice Department filed a criminal complaint with three felony charges against Snowden: theft of government property, disclosing crucial US defence information, and providing classified materials to unauthorised persons.
“Mr Snowden should return to the United States where he should face justice as any other American citizen would,” said Price.