Latest on Snowden: He May Be in Moscow For a While

July 12, 2013
Edward Snowden. Photograph: Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch

UPDATES: We are tracking the developing story of Edward Snowden’s meeting with Human Rights Groups. Our original article is below:

1830 GMT: Snowden has given a speech that appears to be a reading of his statement that was posted on Wikileaks earlier (read the whole statement here).

There is a growing consensus from those who witnessed the speech that Snowden is worried about leaving the Moscow airport where he’s stuck, and is increasingly interested in seeking asylum inside Russia. Tanya Lokshina, a Human Rights watch representative, suggested that Snowden is also worried about how long he can stay in the airport without an official asylum request. The New York Times reports:

Vyacheslav A. Nikonov, a pro-Kremlin political scientist who attended the meeting, said that Mr. Snowden now seemed comfortable agreeing to that condition. But it remained unclear whether that would mean Mr. Snowden would stop releasing classified American intelligence data. He has said previously that he does not consider such disclosures to be harmful to American interests.

“He said, ‘Yes, he is aware of the conditions, and it is very easy for him to answer ‘yes,’” Mr. Nikonov said. “He agrees with the conditions. First, because all he did to hurt the interests of the United States is in the past, and what the journalists are doing now is not his fault. And second, he has no intention of hurting the United States more, since he is a loyal citizen.”

The same report notes that Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer with connections to the Kremlin, has said that he believes that a decision on Snowden’s asylum could be decided in a matter of two to three weeks should he officially apply.

1437 GMT: Vladamir Putin has made an interesting statement about the probability that Snowden will stay in Russia. RT (Russian state-media) reports:

“There is one condition if he wants to remain here: he must stop his work aimed at damaging our American partners. As odd as it may sound from me,” Putin told a media conference in Moscow.

In Putin’s opinion, Snowden considers himself “a fighter for human rights” and it seems unlikely that he is going to stop leaking American secret data.

According to the RT article, Snowden has NOT formerly asked for asylum in Russia (Putin’s spokesman also says he is unaware of a formal request from Snowden. However, they also carry this statement which suggests that such a request would be honored:

Snowden said he is ready to ask Russia for political asylum and that he “does not intend to harm the US in the future,” according to the chairman of the Russian State Duma MP Vyacheslav Nikonov.

“No actions I take or plan are meant to harm the US… I want the US to succeed,” Snowden said.

Parsing these statements from Snowden, Nikonov, and Putin, one might conclude that Snowden could stay in Russia if he refused to leak any more information. However, all of these statements, and the editorial decisions of RT, hint that the Russian line may be that what Snowden is doing isn;t harmful to the U.S., and falls into the category of pro-rights activism.

This is all speculation, of course, but it’s worth noting the ambiguity in Russia’s official line on this point.

Original Article: Despite several days of speculation that Snowden has left the Moscow airport he’s stuck in, he is still in Russia and may not be leaving for some time. Today, the big headline is that he is reaching out to several human rights groups to schedule meetings. LA Times reports:

The request for a meeting was sent to Russian representatives of Amnesty International, Transparency International, Human Rights Watch, a Polish civil rights group and a U.N. representative in Russia. Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin was also invited, the Interfax report said.

Several countries have accepted his asylum requests, including Venezuela, Russia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador, according to Human Rights Watch. But these meetings with human rights groups are a clear indication that Snowden is having a great deal of difficulty getting out of Russia without being apprehended by the United states or its allies. First there was speculation that he may have tried to sneak a ride to South America on a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales, but that flight was forced to land in Vienna to be searched, something referenced in Snowden’s letter published today. In other words, its now apparent to Snowden, and possibly to Russia, that any major US ally will act to intercept Snowden, even if he does not cross into United States airspace. He’ll be releasing a statement later today, but he wouldn’t be asking for the help of rights groups if he thought he didn’t need it.

If Snowden can’t get to one of these other countries, the probability that he will permanently reside in Russia increases. If that happens, expect that to be a major point of contention between Russia and the United States among a growing sea of disagreements.

We’ll continue to follow the story as it develops. We’re expecting a statement from Snowden, and possibly other human rights groups, when the meeting that they are currently attending is over.