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Edward Snowden leaves airport after Russia grants asylum

  • In this handout file photo taken on Friday, July 12, 2013, and made available by Human Rights Watch shows NSA leaker Edward Snowden during his meeting with Russian activists and officials at Sheremetyevo airport, Moscow, Russia . (AP Photo/Tatyana Lokshina, Human Rights Watch HO, file)

MOSCOW — Defying the United States, Russia granted Edward Snowden temporary asylum on Thursday, allowing the National Security Agency leaker to slip out of the Moscow airport where he has been holed up for weeks in hopes of evading espionage charges back home.

The 30-year-old former NSA contractor now has plenty of room to roam throughout the sprawling country and continue the bizarre journey that has already stretched across half the planet — from Hawaii to Hong Kong to the Russian capital.

The move infuriated the U.S. administration, which said it was "extremely disappointed" and warned that the decision could derail an upcoming summit between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The asylum offer places a significant new strain on already-corroded relations with Washington amid differences over Syria, U.S. criticism of Russia's human rights record and other disputes. But Russia appears to have reckoned that ending Snowden's airport limbo was worth intensifying the political standoff. The decision gives Russia cover to depict itself as a defender of human rights, pointing a finger to deflect criticism of its own poor record and tough crackdown on dissent.

Snowden himself made that argument. In a statement issued by WikiLeaks, which has been assisting him, Snowden was quoted as saying that "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."

"I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations," he said.

Snowden's attorney, Anatoly Kucherena, was shown on Russian television holding a passport-like document issued to Snowden by Russia's Federal Migration Service and valid for one year.

He refused to disclose the former NSA contractor's whereabouts, telling reporters at the airport: "He now is one of the most sought-after men in the world. The issue of security is very important for him."

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