NSA leaker learning about Russia's culture, aims to stay put for now
Jim Heintz, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, July 24, 2013 8:25AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 24, 2013 5:10PM EDT
MOSCOW -- National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who fled to Moscow's airport a month ago, aims to stay in Russia for the near future and learn the country's culture and language, his lawyer said Wednesday.
To get him started, Anatoly Kucherena said he gave Snowden a copy of "Crime and Punishment," Dostoyevsky's lengthy novel about the torment and redemption of a man who thought himself outside the law.
"I am not talking about the similarity of inner contradictions," Kucherena said after meeting Snowden in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo international airport, where Snowden has apparently been marooned since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23.
The day's developments left the White House -- and nearly everyone else -- "seeking clarity" about the status of the man who revealed details of an NSA program to monitor Internet and telephone communications.
When Snowden first arrived at Sheremetyevo, he was believed to be planning just to transfer to a flight to Cuba and then to Venezuela to seek asylum. But the United States, which wants him returned for prosecution, cancelled his passport, stranding him. He hasn't been seen in public since, although he met with human rights activists and lawyers July 12.
Snowden then applied for temporary asylum in Russia, saying he eventually wanted to visit countries that had offered him asylum: Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
It's unclear how long Russia will take to decide on the asylum request. Kucherena's meeting Wednesday with Snowden was preceded by a flurry of reports that said the lawyer would give him documentation that would allow him to leave the airport while the asylum process is underway.
But Kucherena said he had no such paperwork to pass along. The Federal Migration Service, which would issue such a document, said it had no information.
Asked about Snowden's long-term intentions, Kucherena told state television that "Russia is his final destination for now. He doesn't look further into the future than that."
The case has provoked considerable tension between Moscow and Washington, at a particularly sensitive time -- less than two months before President Barack Obama had planned to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and again at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. was "seeking clarity" as the reports swirled of Snowden's possible imminent departure from the airport. The head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, said "providing any refuge to Edward Snowden will be harmful to U.S.-Russia relations."
The lawyer said that Snowden is studying "Russian culture" and has already learned a little Russian, but the copy of Dostoyevsky's thick and dense novel -- about the mental anguish of a poor ex-student who kills a pawnbroker for her cash -- was in English. He said he also brought Snowden other books, including an unspecified work by Anton Chekhov.
Kucherena told journalists that he had brought fresh clothes for Snowden, whom he said had been wearing the same clothes he had when he arrived from Hong Kong.
If Snowden gets the documentation to leave the airport, that would only allow him to travel outside Russia, for which he'd need other identification papers, Kucherena said.
How long that might take is unclear.
"Edward is understanding about this and he hasn't been refused anything -- the process is simply being drawn out somewhat," Kucherena said.
U.S.-Russian relations are already strained by Washington's criticism of Russia's pressure on opposition groups, its suspicion of U.S. missile-defence plans in Europe, and its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.