NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is awaiting an extension on his asylum status in Russia, which expired at midnight on Thursday, but will stay on in the country while the authorities review his appeal.
His whereabouts in the country are not known but his lawyers say that he would prefer staying in Russia for some more time, as it is the “safest place” for him. Snowden was stranded in Russia last year after his passport was revoked by the U.S. while he was in a transit zone in a Moscow airport. According to Russian rules, an asylum plea has to be renewed every year and Snowden's plea comes at a time when the U.S. and Russia are facing the worst period in bilateral relations since the Cold War over the latter's involvement in Ukraine.
“If he had not gone to Hong Kong and just held a press conference, he would have been arrested and I think he would have been placed in solitary confinement and no one would have heard anything from him about who he is, why he decided to make the disclosures that he did, what he was trying to achieve,” Jesselyn Radack, one of Snowden’s lawyers, said in an interview to ABC Radio on Wednesday.
According to Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden, who had earlier claimed that he was trained as a spy, is learning Russian and is working in the country to fulfill some of the requirements of renewing his asylum status, Bloomberg reported, adding that his plea is most likely to be accepted.
Although U.S. officials have repeatedly urged Snowden to return home to face charges of espionage for disclosing the secret workings of the NSA and other American intelligence agencies, Snowden’s lawyers maintain that going back to the U.S. could be dangerous for him and have advised him to stay in Russia.
“He didn't voluntarily go to Moscow. The US is the reason that he is in Moscow. He was ticketed to fly to Latin America and had to go through the transit zone in Moscow during a layover and at that point the US revoked his passport, effectively stranding him there,” Radack said, according to ABC Radio, adding: “For now he is in the safest place that he can be and Russia has indicated that it intends to plan on having him, allowing him to continue to stay.”