A section of media and security experts in the US have questioned the timing of the awarding of citizenship at a time when Russia has been ostracised from the west and the relationship between the US and Russia is at its lowest over the Ukraine war.
Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence contractor and whistleblower, was granted Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin after nearly 10 years of living in exile in the country. President Putin signed a decree, on September 26, which granted Snowden and 74 other foreign nationals Russian citizenship.
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Snowden, a former contractor working with the US National Security Agency, had shot into the limelight after revealing secret intelligence files which revealed the extent of the US international surveillance system. Snowden arrived in Russia in 2013, asking for asylum following the leak after no other safe options remained for him. The US Department of Justice had followed up on Snowden with espionage charges and just as Snowden arrived in Moscow, the Department of State revoked his passport.
“After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our sons,” Snowden said on Monday. “After two years of waiting and nearly ten years of exile, a little stability will make a difference for my family. I pray for privacy for them—and for us all,” he added.
Snowden had applied for Russian citizenship in 2020 along with his wife when the latter was pregnant with the couple’s child. Being born in Russia, the child automatically received citizenship.
Speculations over what secrets Snowden shared with Russia
A section of media and security experts in the US have questioned the timing of the awarding of citizenship at a time when Russia has been ostracised from the West and the relationship between the US and Russia is at its lowest over the Ukraine war.
“It raises the question — again — about just what he shared with the Russians,” said James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, in an email, reported Los Angeles Times.
Snowden has denied having cooperated with Russian intelligence. His stay in Russia has been a matter of contention between the US and Russia, with the former having tried to extradite back to US soil to face a trial.
War of words between the US and Russia
At the time of Snowden’s arrival in Russia in 2013, several US authorities had blamed Moscow for playing a part in the leak, which the latter had dismissed as “ravings and rubbish”. Though President Putin had added that Snowden’s arrival was a “complete surprise” and stated that the “sooner he chooses his final destination, the better it would be for us and for himself.”
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The US Attorney General at the time Eric Holder had sent a letter to the then Russian Minister of Justice Aleksandr Konovalov stating that the US would issue a limited validity passport to Snowden for his return to the US where he would receive a trial in a civilian court with access to legal counsel.
However, the negotiations ended when Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson at the time stated that the Russian President had declined to hand over Snowden to American authorities, but only allowed the whistleblower to stay in Russia if he stopped leaking American secrets. Peskov had added that Putin did not wish for the Snowden incident to impact Russia-US relations.
However, the Washington Post and Moscow-based Kommersant had reported that Snowden had stayed in the Russian Consulate in Hong Kong before making his way to Moscow. It was in Hong Kong that the contractor leaked the papers to various journalists. While there were conflicting reports over whether Snowden had sought out the Russians or whether they had invited him, some reports also indicated that Snowden’s final destination was not Moscow. But with the revocation of his US passport, he was essentially stranded.
“A lot of people are still unaware that I never intended to end up in Russia. My government revoked my passport intentionally to leave me exiled. If they really wanted to capture me, they would’ve allowed me to travel to Latin America, because the CIA can operate with impunity down there. They did not want that; they chose to keep me in Russia,” Snowden had told The Nation magazine in 2014.
Snowden's silence on Russia's invasion of Ukraine
While Snowden has previously criticized Moscow’s human rights record, he has remained famously silent over the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. The whistleblower had remained adamant that Russia would not invade Ukraine, blaming US intelligence for scaremongering just prior to the launch of the military operation. Following that, Snowden tweeted, “I’ve just lost any confidence I had that sharing my thinking on this particular topic continues to be useful because I called it wrong.”
(Edited by : Sudarsanan Mani)
First Published: IST