Anatoly Kucherena, the Chairman of the Civic Chamber Commission on Citizens Security and Cooperation with the Judicial System and Law Enforcement, and the Chairman of the Public Council under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has recently become widely known also as someone who takes care of our American guest Edward Snowden. Mikhail Barschevsky, a member of the Presidium of the Association of Lawyers of Russia, spoke to the attorney about the details of the legal status of this refugee and about his everyday life.
First of all, let’s define the legal side of the issue. Is Edward Snowden your client, or are you helping him on a pro bono basis? How did you end up being so close to the American in the first place?
Anatoly Kucherena: Officially, he is my client. But at the same time, I provide a number of other services to him. In our profession, we quite often help people regardless of how our relations continue. Initially we are asked to provide legal aid, and later on other issues may arise, including in everyday life. That is, by the way, what happened with Edward. It was impossible to refuse, because he was left all alone in Russia.
He has nobody here, no parents, no other relatives. And as to why I ended up to be “close” to Edward, it was because he personally contacted me with a request to provide legal assistance.
Remind me, please, what is his current status and why did he have to stay at Sheremetyevo [airport] for so long?
Anatoly Kucherena: He was granted a temporary refugee status. And he got stuck in Sheremetyevo, because for a while he couldn’t decide what to do, again, not knowing our national legislation. In order to stay here and to make any statements and appeals to our authorities, it was necessary at least to know and understand our laws. In fact, this is exactly why he invited me. He wanted me to explain to him how the Russian laws work. For example, we discussed with him almost all the procedures that he had to go through to get a temporary asylum.
By the time Snowden landed here his passport was no longer valid. But they couldn’t revoke his citizenship.
Eventually he decided that we should follow a simplified scheme, i.e. apply to the Migration Service for a temporary status: temporary asylum for the shortest possible period stipulated by the Russian law, that is one year. He was issued a certificate of temporary refugee status, that allows him to enjoy all the same rights and responsibilities that are available to Russian citizens, with the exception of working for state agencies and participating in elections.
Recently in the U.S. I spoke to a very famous American lawyer, my long-time friend. He asked me why we hadn’t given Snowden away. I replied, “On what legal basis could we extradite him to you if you have revoked his passport thereby depriving him of U.S. citizenship? He has not been convicted by a U.S. court and is not a U.S. citizen. Why did we have to give him to you, and not, for example to China, Venezuela or the United Kingdom?” To this he replied: “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He was an American, but above all he was a lawyer.
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Anatoly Kucherena: This story turned out really odd. He was on his way from Hong Kong to Russia, when the Americans revoked his passport. We even have the dispatch to that effect, that was received by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice. When he landed, his passport was no longer valid. But they couldn’t strip him of his citizenship. They tried, but failed, because after all the U.S. procedures in this regard are quite strict. Therefore, he continues to be an American citizen, but with a cancelled passport. When I spoke with the U.S. Embassy officials, they insisted on meeting with him by all means. But every time Edward refused, and I told them that he was not arrested, he was not charged with any crime in the territory of the Russian Federation. Therefore, he was not under restraints, and it was up to him to decide whether or not to meet with anybody. The Americans created this problem themselves. When I suggested to them to restore his passport so that he could decide where to go, they answered: “We can restore his passport, but only for entry into the United States.” However my client obviously had different plans.
As we know, our president has granted Snowden the right to stay, in fact an asylum, with one condition. He should stop any anti-American activities. Nevertheless, every now and then some incriminating evidence comes up in the media, attributed to the American. Moreover, last it was reported that he was ready to testify in the German parliament in connection with the American spying case. Do you see any contradiction in this?
Anatoly Kucherena: Officially the temporary asylum was granted by the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation. If he applied for political asylum, then it would be up to the President to decide. With regard to disclosure, our president did set that condition, and we also discussed it with Edward. He asked, “What can I do now? When I was in Hong Kong, I gave the materials about wiretapping, unlawful and illegal actions by the CIA, NSA, etc. to journalists? I understand the position of your president, but I cannot take these materials back. Even if I try, they will still have copies.” Therefore, everything that is revealed today in regard to Germany, France and other European countries is based on the information that he handed over to journalists when he was in Hong Kong.
In what status and in what form might he testify before the German MPs? In general, who and how could arrange that and what guarantees of his security could be provided?
Anatoly Kucherena: It can only be assumed that would be as a witness, if the German law enforcement agencies initiated a criminal investigation into a possible eavesdropping on Chancellor Merkel and other political and public figures. But as far as I can remember, there is a so-called anti-spying agreement between the United States and Germany, and as soon as he enters the German territory, he must be handed over to the Americans. But he can testify before German parliamentarians here in Russia.
On a number of occasions the media speculated that Snowden could start working for one of the largest Russian IT-companies, but every time this information was refuted. And what kind of income could an American live on in Russia, if he no longer sells secrets?
Anatoly Kucherena: First of all I should say that he never traded secrets, and he never received any money for the information he leaked while still in Hong Kong. I can definitely confirm that, based on his current position. Whatever money he had he almost entirely spent on food, rent, security, etc. However, he is assisted, including financially, by some organizations and motivated citizens.
How does his future look like to you?
Anatoly Kucherena: I think that, given his professional skills in the IT area, he has a bright future in any country of the world. However, the moment he leaves Russia, he loses his refugee status.