Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor who leaked a vast trove of classified documents detailing American surveillance practices, has formally asked the Russian government to extend his political asylum, Russian media reported Wednesday.
Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told the Interfax news agency that he submitted the necessary documents to the Moscow branch of the Federal Migration Service in an attempt to extend Snowden’s stay in Russia when his initial one-year asylum ends on July 31.
“We have submitted documents for extending his stay in Russia,” Kucherna told Interfax, as quoted by the New York Times. “I will not say for now under which status we would like to get this extension because the decision rests with the Federal Migration Service.”
Snowden, 31, has been compared to Benedict Arnold and Daniel Ellsberg and everyone between in the year since he obtained an estimated tens of thousands of secret documents detailing surveillance programs that sweep up data on Americans and foreign citizens alike. The spying practices described in the documents, details of which are still being published, have caused diplomatic issues with Brazil, Germany and other longstanding allies while inspiring a debate over security vs. privacy at home in the U.S.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to shelter Snowden is also seen, along with the annexation of Crimea and sweeping laws that criminalize homosexuality, as a major cause of tension with the West.
Little is known about Snowden’s life in Russia, though previous reports have indicated that he’s learning Russian and read Dostoyevsky's “Crime and Punishment.” Attorney Kucherena previously told the Times that Snowden was working with one of the country’s major Internet companies but refused to go into more detail “because the level of threat from the U.S. government structures is still very high.”
There have also been whispers that the whistleblower has sought asylum outside Russia, although it’s conceivable that his plane could land in a nation with an extradition treaty with the U.S. and he would find himself stateside facing charges of theft and espionage.
The Russian Federal Migration Service has not commented on the circumstances of the application, but there is no reason to expect Snowden won’t be in Russia past July 31.