Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship by Vladimir Putin, nine years after the US whistleblower exposed the scale of secret surveillance operations by the National Security Agency (NSA). In 2013, the 39-year-old former US intelligence contractor fled the country and was given asylum in Russia. He generated worldwide headlines after leaking secret files that revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA.
For a number of years since then, US authorities have pressed for him to be returned to the country to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.
There has been no immediate comment from Snowden over his Russian citizenship, but his name appeared in a Putin decree conferring citizenship on a list of 72 foreign-born individuals.
News of the citizenship led to quips about whether the US whistleblower would be called up to fight on behalf of Russia’s military in the war in Ukraine.
Last week, Putin announced Russia’s first public mobilisation since World War Two as he desperately looks to swing back momentum in Russia’s faltering war effort.
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the state media outlet RT and a vocal Putin supporter, wrote with a humorous tone on her Telegram channel: “Will Snowden be drafted?”
But his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena has quickly shut that idea down, telling the RIA news agency his client could not be called up because he had not previously served in the Russian army.
He added Mr Snowden’s wife Lindsay Mills, who gave birth to a son in 2020, would also apply for Russian citizenship.
Since Russia granted him permanent residency rights in 2020, paving the way for him to obtain Russian citizenship, he has largely kept a low profile.
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“And I look forward to the day I can return to the States, so the whole family can be reunited. Our greatest wish is that, wherever our son lives, he feels at home.”
While living Russia, Mr Snowden has gone under the radar somewhat, occasionally posting photographs of his family in Moscow, while in 2019, he said was willing to return to the US if he’s guaranteed a fair trial.
He has also not thought to have provided public comment about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen the warring country battered by several crushing sanctions from the West – including from the US.
On February 27 – three days after the invasion began – Snowden wrote on Twitter: “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.”