Russia continues in defiance of American interests. It granted citizenship this week to former American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. He fled prosecution after revealing highly classified U.S. surveillance programs to capture communications and data from around the world.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday that listed Snowden as one of 75 foreign citizens listed as being granted Russian citizenship.
Snowden fled from America in 2013 and was granted permanent Russian residency in 2020. He said at that time that he planned to apply for Russian citizenship, but he did not renounce his U.S. citizenship.
This has certainly not helped the relational dynamics between Washington and Moscow. They are at their lowest point in decades after Putin decided to launch what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
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Snowden, who is 39, is thought of by some as a righteous whistleblower who wanted to protect American civil liberties. But the U.S. intelligence officials have accused him of putting U.S. personnel at risk for their lives and also of damaging national security.
Snowden currently faces charges in America that could put him in prison for decades.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said this week that the government’s position has not changed. “Mr. Snowden should return to the United States where he should face justice as any other American citizen would,” Price said.
The joke may be on Snowden. He is now a citizen in Russia just as Moscow is mobilizing reservists to go fight in Ukraine. In Russia, just about every male under 65 is considered to be a reservist. And officials have made it clear that men with dual citizenship are eligible for military mobilization.
Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s lawyer, doesn’t believe he is eligible because he has never served in the Russian military. Having experience in the military has been the main criterion for the call-up thus far.
Kucherena told Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti that Snowden’s wife, Lindsay Mills, will be applying for a Russian passport. She has been living with Snowden and they had a child at the end of 2020.
Snowden usually keeps a low profile, but he has said on social media that he was willing to return to the U.S. if he guaranteed a fair trial. He has not commented on being granted citizenship.
Snowden leaked documents on the National Security Agency’s collection of data passing through the system of U.S. phone and internet companies. He also released information about the extent of American surveillance on foreign officials that included leaders of countries allied with the United States.
He maintains that he did this because he believed American intelligence had gone too far and infringed on people’s civil liberties. He also said that he did not believe that former President Barack Obama would act, so he made an internal whistleblower complaint.
Snowden wrote all of what he did in his book, “Permanent Record.” He said he began to understand the extent of the government’s abuse of civil liberties and he became “cursed with the knowledge that all of us had been reduced to something like children, who’d been forced to live the rest of their lives under omniscient parental supervision.”
Since fleeing to Russia, he has become a well-known speaker on privacy and intelligence. He has appeared remotely at many events from Russia.
A U.S. damage assessment of his disclosures is still classified. He has been charged with unauthorized disclosure of U.S. national security and intelligence information as well as theft of government property. The three charges each carry a maximum 10-year penalty.