Fugitive Edward Snowden applies for asylum in Russia

Fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has applied for temporary asylum in Russia, officials say.

The Federal Migration Service confirmed he had completed the relevant paperwork at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where he has been for the past three weeks.

Mr Snowden is wanted by the US for leaking details of government surveillance programmes.

He has no travel documents, so has been unable to take up asylum offers from a number of Latin American states.

“He reached the conclusion that he needs to write an application for temporary asylum, and this procedure has just been done,” said Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer with strong links with the Kremlin who helped Mr Snowden with the paperwork.

“For now he is not going to go anywhere. For now he plans to stay in Russia,” he said.

Meanwhile the White House reiterated its position that the fugitive should be expelled to face trial in the US.

If there is a chance to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum and then move him on to Latin America before September, that may be the best route for Russia.

But if that proves impossible, President Vladimir Putin will have to make a decision – does he continue to rub salt into America’s wounds, or does he encourage Edward Snowden to leave quickly by making it clear that the asylum request is not going to work out.

What is still unclear is the extent to which the Russian intelligence agencies have been able to pump Edward Snowden for information, or even for the secret files themselves.

If they still want the information, there may be a trade-off involved – he gives the Russians what they desire and gets to leave the airport, and they decide that a poorer relationship with the US is the price they will have to pay for Mr Snowden’s secrets.

“Mr Snowden should not be allowed to engage in further international travel except as necessary to return to the United States,” US spokesman Jay Carney said.

“He is not a human rights activist. He is not a dissident. He’s accused of leaking classified information.”

Mr Kucherena said the fugitive had stated in the application that he faced possible torture and execution if he returned to the US.

If his application is accepted, he will be free to work and move freely in Russia,  the lawyer said.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Mr Kucherena as saying he had asked Mr Snowden whether he would observe a request from President Vladimir Putin to not harm US interests if he is able to leave the airport.

“He replied: ‘I will observe this condition’,” Mr Kucherena told the agency.

Officials said Mr Snowden might be moved to an airport facility for accommodating refugees while his application was being processed, which should take no more than three months.

A presidential spokesman told Interfax that Mr Putin had not yet responded to the asylum request, and that the decision on whether it would be granted was not his to make.

But although the Russian government insists the decision will be made by a relatively junior official, the person in charge will be in no doubt what his boss would like him to do.

President Putin is clearly aware of the sensitivities involved, and the issue risks overshadowing talks with US President Barack Obama who is due to visit Russia in September.

Mr Snowden arrived in Russia on 23 June, having left Hong Kong, from where he had issued his leaks to the media.

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