Russia says Snowden can stay till 2020

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Russian authorities have extended US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden’s Russian residency permit by three years, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.

Snowden’s residence permit has been extended “until 2020,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told AFP.

She had previously indicated on Facebook that Snowden’s permit had been extended by two years, using a phrase that can be ambiguous in Russian.

Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena confirmed to RIA Novosti state news agency that the Russian immigration service in early January extended Snowden’s permit by three years, while he has already spent more than three years in the country.

Kucherena added that if Snowden ends up staying in Russia for five years, he will be able to apply for Russian citizenship.

“This will be legally possible in the near future,” Kucherena said.

The former National Security Agency contractor shook the American intelligence establishment to its core in 2013 with a series of devastating leaks on mass surveillance in the US and around the world.

The announcement came as outgoing US President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of army private Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for handing classified US documents to WikiLeaks.

Snowden was not on Obama’s list of commutations or pardons.

Snowden has been living in exile in Russia since the summer of 2013, ending up in the country after spending weeks in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

He was initially granted permission to stay in Russia for one year amid the rapid deterioration in Moscow’s relations with Washington.

Kucherena said Snowden “has quite an active life, he travels and visits the provinces, he works.”

Snowden has not made any public appearances in Russia since his arrival although he has given interviews in secret locations.

The revelations from the documents he leaked sparked a massive row over the data sweeps conducted by the United States domestically and in allied nations, including of their leaders.

Snowden welcomed the action on Manning’s sentence, writing on Twitter: “Let it be said here in earnest, with good heart: Thanks, Obama.”

Asked about Snowden’s possible future given Obama’s decision, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists Wednesday that “this isn’t a question for the Kremlin, we don’t have any information on what Mr Snowden is doing.”

All Snowden’s contacts with the outside world are through his lawyers in Russia and the United States, Peskov added.

Former CIA acting director Michael Morell in an opinion piece this week suggested that Putin could hand over Snowden to mark Donald Trump’s inauguration.

But Zakharova condemned what she called Morell’s proposal to “hand over those who seek protection,” adding: “You still don’t understand Russia, Michael Morell.”

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