What Edward Snowden Can Expect Under Russian Law

June 28, 2013
Edward Snowden

Former NSA employee Edward Snowden, who remains in the transit area at Sheremetyevo Airport, could remain there indefinitely, even as the US attempts to have him extradited for the disclosure of information about government surveillance of electronic communications. This matter is regulated in Russia under Art. 31 of the Law on Entry and Exit. According to attorney Vladislav Kocherin from the Legis Group, in order to remain in Russia lawfully for more than 24 hours, Snowden must obtain a transit visa, which can be issued to him for a period of no more than 10 days. Such a visa is for one-time use only and can be extended only if there are specific reasons; for example, in the event that it is impossible to depart Russia due to extreme circumstances. In Kocherin’s opinion, in revoking Snowden’s passport, the US has created such circumstances and Snowden’s visa may be extended until he disappears.

A representative of the Foreign Ministry did not reply to Vedomosti’s question as to whether Snowden was issued a transit visa.

The US may initiate an official procedure to extradite Snowden, based on a 1999 Russian-American agreement on mutual legal aid in criminal cases; there is no extradition agreement between Russia and the US. However, the 1999 agreement, according to Kocherin, is very unspecific and does not bind Russia to any actions regarding Snowden’s extradition. Representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office (where the request must be sent) and the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (which must fulfill the requests of the Prosecutor General’s Office) did not answer Vedomosti’s question about whether such a request had been received from the US. If there is the political will, Snowden must be extradited within two weeks, but if he manages to submit a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, the process may take years, says attorney Andrei Andrusenko.

In their statements this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell did not say whether a formal request for Snowden’s extradition had been sent to Russia, but they noted that the US had turned over several important Russian criminals to Russia in recent years and can count on reciprocity.

But only some small fry were given to Russian law-enforcement agencies, and when requests were made for criminals of serious interest to the Russian Interior Ministry, the Americans basically sent back form letters or suggestions to find information about them on the Internet, said an Interior Ministry official. Thus, the atmosphere on this issue cannot be said to be favorable.

Political bargaining with the US over the fate of Snowden would be awkward and is unlikely be made: if Moscow turned Snowden over to Washington, it would be humiliated before the whole world, half of whom consider him a hero, political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov believes. Therefore, the period of his stay at Sheremetyevo will last as long as the search for a safe country to which he could fly, but there are only a few such countries which don’t fear a confrontation with the US, and the search could drag on for some time.