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Snowden granted Russian citizenship

By REN QI in Moscow | China Daily | Updated: 2022-09-28 08:00
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Former contractor of US National Security Agency Edward Snowden is seen on a screen during his interview presented via video link at the New Knowledge educational online forum in Moscow, Russia, September 2, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday granted Russian citizenship to former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed massive surveillance operations by the US National Security Agency and was granted refuge by Moscow.

A presidential decree published on Monday included Edward Joseph Snowden 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.

Snowden, 39, has been living in Russia since 2013 to escape prosecution in the United States, where the authorities have for years wanted him returned to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.

While Snowden is considered by supporters to be a righteous whistleblower who wanted to protect civil liberties in the US, intelligence officials there have accused him of putting US personnel at risk and damaging national security. He faces charges in the US that could result in decades in prison.

Snowden leaked documents on the National Security Agency's collection of data passing through the infrastructure of US phone and internet companies. He also released details about the classified US intelligence budget and the extent of surveillance on foreign officials, including the leaders of US-allied countries.

Snowden said he made the disclosures because he believed the US intelligence community had gone too far and wrongly infringed on civil liberties. He also has said he didn't believe the administration of president Barack Obama, which was in office when Snowden leaked the records to journalists, would act had he made an internal whistleblower complaint instead.

In 2020, Snowden said that he and his then-pregnant wife were applying for Russian citizenship in order not to be separated from their future son in an era of pandemics and closed borders.

Russia granted him permanent residency rights the same year, paving the way for him to obtain citizenship.

"After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our sons," Snowden, whose name appeared on a list of 72 foreign-born individuals for whom Putin was granting citizenship, said on Twitter on Monday. "After two years of waiting and nearly 10 years of exile, a little stability will make a difference for my family. I pray for privacy for them — and for us all."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told news agencies that Snowden had received Russian citizenship as a result of his own request.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday: "Our position has not changed", adding that "Mr Snowden should return to the United States where he should face justice as any other American citizen would."

Putin's decree to grant Snowden citizenship quickly led to quips on social media that the whistleblower will soon be conscripted into the Russian army to fight in Ukraine as part of the country's nationwide partial mobilization campaign.

Snowden's Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told the state news agency RIA Novosti that his client could not be drafted in the mobilization because he has not previously served in the Russian armed forces. The lawyer added that Snowden's wife, Lindsay Mills, was also applying for Russian citizenship.

Agencies contributed to the story.

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