Putin grants US whistleblower Snowden Russian citizenship

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden appears on screen during an interview via video link at the New Knowledge Education online forum in Moscow, Russia, September 2, 2021. REUTERS/Olesya Astakhova

(Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Monday granted former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden Russian citizenship, nine years after revealing the scale of the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) covert surveillance operation.

Snowden, 39, fled the United States and was granted asylum in Russia in 2013 after leaking secret documents that revealed massive domestic and international surveillance by the National Security Agency where he worked.

For years, U.S. authorities have wanted him to return to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.

Snowden’s name appeared in Putin’s decree, without Kremlin comment, granting citizenship to 72 foreign-born individuals.

Snowden later posted a message, essentially an updated version of a November 2020 tweet, saying he wanted his family together and asked for privacy.

“My wife and I do not want to be separated from our son after years of separation from our parents,” the tweet read.

“After two years of waiting and nearly a decade in exile, my family would be a little bit more stable and my family would be different. My prayers are for them – and for all of us.”

The new tweet made no mention of the Kremlin leader’s decree, but it was attached to a 2020 Twitter (NYSE:) post in which Snowden said he and his family were applying for dual U.S.-Russian citizenship.

The news prompted some Russians to jokingly ask Snowden if Snowden would be drafted, five days after Putin announced Russia’s first public mobilization since World War II to support its faltering invasion of Ukraine.

“Will Snowden be selected?” Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state media RT and an outspoken supporter of Putin, wrote in dark humor on her Telegram channel.

Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told RIA Novosti that his client could not be summoned because he had not previously served in the Russian military.

Snowden’s wife, Lindsay (NYSE:) Mills, who gave birth to a son in 2020, will also apply for citizenship, he said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said he was not aware of any changes to Snowden’s status as a U.S. citizen.

“I’m familiar with the fact that he denounced his U.S. citizenship in some ways. I didn’t know he’d renounced it,” Price said at a news conference.

Russia granted Snowden permanent residency in 2020, paving the way for him to gain Russian citizenship.

That year, a U.S. appeals court ruled that Snowden’s unmasked plan was unlawful, and U.S. intelligence leaders who publicly defended it didn’t tell the truth.

Former Russian spy chief Vladimir Putin said in 2017 that Snowden, who kept a low profile while living in Russia, was wrong to leak American secrets, but he was not a traitor.

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