- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2017

Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor wanted in the U.S. for leaking national security documents to the press, can remain in Russia through 2020, officials in Moscow said Wednesday.

Mr. Snowden’s right to asylum was extended by three years, his Moscow-based attorney and the Kremlin confirmed separately this week, giving the NSA leaker at least until the decade’s end to remain in Russia, his de facto residence for the last 3½ years.

Mr. Snowden, 33, was attempting to travel from Hong Kong to South America in June 2013 when the U.S. State Department revoked his passport in connection with a federal investigation involving his unauthorized disclosure of government secrets. He was stranded at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport until being granted asylum by the Russian government several weeks later.

Now as the start of his fourth year abroad nears, Mr. Snowden’s Moscow-based attorney this week said his client could potentially apply for Russian citizenship as soon as 2018.

“In effect, he now has all grounds to receive citizenship in the future, over the course of a certain period, since under the law we have a period of residence on Russia soil of not less than five years,” his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

“Now he has already been living on Russian territory for nearly four years, he does not violate the law, there are no complaints about him. That’s one of the reasons his residency permit was extended,” he added.

Mr. Kucherena and the Kremlin both confirmed Mr. Snowden’s right to asylum was extended this week shortly after Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova revealed as much in a Facebook post Tuesday in response to a editorial published days earlier by former CIA Director Michael Morell.

“Noon on January 20th provides an excellent opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to give President-Elect Donald Trump the perfect inauguration gift — Edward Snowden,” Mr. Morell wrote in an op-ed published by The Cipher Brief website Sunday.

“The funniest thing is that [Morrell] doesn’t know that Snowden’s Russian residency permit has just been extended by a couple years,” Ms. Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page prior to the decision being made public.

Although an extradition treaty doesn’t exist between the U.S. and Russia, questions regarding Mr. Snowden’s future under the president-elect have been raised repeatedly in recent weeks given Mr. Trump’s fondness for his soon-to-be Russian counterpart, in addition to Mr. Trump having previous called for Mr. Snowden’s execution.

Mr. Snowden did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“While I can’t predict what the future looks like, I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, I can be comfortable with the way I’ve lived today,” he said during a post-election event in Netherlands last year.

Asked on Wednesday about what the future holds for the American fugitive, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists Wednesday that “this isn’t a question for the Kremlin,” adding: “we don’t have any information on what Mr. Snowden is doing.”

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