National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has received temporary asylum in Russia, his legal representative said Thursday, and has reportedly left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport for Russian soil.
The offer of asylum from Russia’s Federal Migration Service, confirmed to various news agencies by lawyer and Public Chamber member Anatoly Kucherena, marks an end to a weeks-long international saga that began with Snowden’s arrival from Hong Kong on June 23.
Kucherena, who has acted as Snowden’s legal representative in Russia, told news agency RIA Novosti the whistleblower has left the airport, where he spent more than five weeks languishing in the transit area, by himself in a private taxi. He was headed to a secure and undisclosed location, Kucherena said.
The temporary asylum reportedly allows the former NSA contractor to remain in Russia for up to one year.
In an interview with a Russian television network Wednesday, Snowden’s father, Lon, thanked the Russian government for protecting his son and suggested that remaining in Russia was the safest option for Edward.
But Russia’s offer of asylum to Snowden, wanted by the US government for uncovering a top secret and wide-ranging surveillance program, is likely to further strain relations between Washington and Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had earlier shown signs that Snowden’s stay in Russia was proving increasingly uncomfortable for the Kremlin, but he has also refused to hand him over to U.S. authorities.
Speculation has grown over whether President Barack Obama will cancel a planned visit to Russia in September.