Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, who exposed mass spying by the US National Security Agency and then sought refuge in Russia.
In the decree, Putin said that “in accordance with paragraph 'a' of Article 89 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, I decide: to accept the following persons in the citizenship of the Russian Federation: Edward Joseph Snowden, born June 21, 1983, in the United States of America.”
The 39-year-old Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency, has been living in Russia since 2013 when the US government stripped him of his passport after he exposed the vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
After fleeing the US in 2013, he was charged with violations of the Espionage Act, which could in total have led to decades in prison.
Snowden in 2020 said he and his then-pregnant wife were applying for Russian citizenship to make sure they are not separated from their future son in an era of pandemics and closed borders.
He was granted permanent residency rights the same year by the Russian government, which paved the way for him to obtain the country's citizenship.
“After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our sons,” Snowden, whose name appeared on a list of 72 foreigners granted Russian citizenship, wrote in a Twitter post 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.”
After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our SONS.— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 26, 2022
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. https://t.co/24NUK21TAo pic.twitter.com/qLfp47uzZ4
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that Snowden retains his American citizenship.
“Our position has not changed. Mr. Snowden should return to the United States where he should face justice as any other American citizen would,” Price said.
"Perhaps the only thing that has changed is that as a result of his Russian citizenship, apparently now he may well be conscripted (to the Russian army)."
The White House passed Snowden’s citizenship issue to the US Justice Department, saying there were criminal charges against him.
“Since, I believe, there have been criminal charges brought against him, we would point you to the Department of Justice for any specifics on this,” said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.
Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told the state news agency Ria Novosti that his wife, Lindsay Mills, was also applying for Russian citizenship.
The decision comes at a time when Moscow-Washington relations have frayed over the conflict in Ukraine, now into its eighth month.
Last week President Putin ordered a mobilization of Russian men to join the army’s fight in Ukraine.
Snowden’s attorney, however, said on Monday that his client, as a Russian citizen, cannot be called up within the ongoing partial mobilization.
"He cannot be called up because, under Russian laws, he has never served in the Russian army and is not a reservist," he stressed.