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Snowden formally requests asylum in Russia

July 16, 2013

Since the final days of June, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has sequestered himself in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, Russia. He remains in hiding from the United States, having leaked classified information on various U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) phone and Internet surveillance programs to the world's media. According to The Washington Post, the whistleblower recently made a formal request to the Russian government for temporary political asylum. As the question of where Snowden would seek protection has been on the minds of many for weeks, this development is likely to provoke intrigued phone calls using international calling cards.

The news source reported that under Russian law, the temporary asylum Snowden seeks would be valid for one year, with the possibility of an extension. The leaker drew up his application with the help of a Russian lawyer. Anatoly Kucherena, of the Public Chamber advisory council, stated that Snowden claimed to be afraid that if extradited to the United States, he would be persecuted and perhaps tortured.

Now that the application has been submitted, Snowden must either remain in the Sheremetyevo transit zone, where he is free from any capture or prosecution because it is international territory, or go to a refugee shelter while Russia's Federal Migration Service considers his request, which could take as long as three months.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a number of seemingly contradictory statements regarding Snowden. According to The Wall Street Journal, his latest thoughts on the matter are that the leaker should leave Russia as soon as possible and shouldn't release any more U.S. secrets. He sarcastically joked that Snowden was "a Christmas present for [Russia]" and that American authorities "scared all the other countries such that no one wants to take him, and therefore blockaded him in our territory." Putin also stated that he hopes not to further complicate the currently strained ties between his administration and that of President Barack Obama.

This contrasts sharply with his original stance on the issue. Putin was first to publicly announce that Snowden was indeed in the Sheremetyevo airport, and also made a point of stressing that he would not extradite Snowden to the U.S. under any circumstances. However, the Journal reported that this may have simply been a move to appease his political base, which is in favor of Putin having an anti-American attitude. As he is scheduled to meet with Obama in September, it is possible that he aims to steer away from such a point of view.

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