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Edward Snowden, president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, spoke by video during the opening night of Web Summit 2019 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images)

After Nearly a Decade in Exile, Snowden Granted Russian Citizenship

While the whistleblower said "a little stability" would benefit his family, one digital rights advocate noted that "if the Biden administration dropped the charges against Snowden, Putin wouldn't be able to use him for a PR stunt."

Jessica Corbett

American whistleblower Edward Snowden was among 72 foreign-born individuals granted Russian citizenship on Monday in a decree signed by President Vladimir Putin, just over seven months into Russia's war on Ukraine.

"After two years of waiting and nearly 10 years of exile, a little stability will make a difference for my family."

Snowden—who exposed the mass surveillance practices of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA)—has lived in Russia since the summer of 2013, when the United States revoked his passport while he was attempting to travel from Hong Kong to Ecuador.

Shortly after Russia granted him permanent residency rights, Snowden announced in November 2020 that he and his wife, Lindsay Mills—who gave birth to their first son that year, and a second son earlier this year—were seeking dual citizenship.

"After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our son," Snowden explained. "That's why, in this era of pandemics and closed borders, we're applying for dual U.S.-Russian citizenship."

"Lindsay and I will remain Americans, raising our son with all the values of the America we love—including the freedom to speak his mind. And I look forward to the day I can return to the states, so the whole family can be reunited," he added. "Our greatest wish is that, wherever our son lives, he feels at home."

In a tweet noting that statement and sharing a family photo, the 39-year-old said Monday that "after years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our SONS. After two years of waiting and nearly 10 years of exile, a little stability will make a difference for my family. I pray for privacy for them—and for us all."

Snowden attorney Anatoly Kucherena told Russian state-owned RIA Novosti on Monday that Mills is seeking citizenship. The lawyer also said that Snowden will not be forced to participate in the recently announced "partial mobilization" to send troops to Ukraine, as he has not served in Russia's army.

Not long before Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Snowden accused the global news media of "pushing for war." Since the invasion, he has faced some criticism for his lack of comment on the conflict.

Just after the war began, he said that "I'm not suspended from the ceiling above a barrel of acid by a rope that burns a little faster every time I tweet, you concern-trolling ghouls. I've just lost any confidence I had that sharing my thinking on this particular topic continues to be useful, because I called it wrong."

In response to the citizenship news on Monday, Evan Greer, director of the U.S.-based digital rights group Fight for the Future, tweeted that "if the Biden administration dropped the charges against Snowden, Putin wouldn't be able to use him for a PR stunt, just sayin'."

Shadowproof managing editor Kevin Gosztola said: "Let's be clear. Snowden sought citizenship in Russia because his government will not let him return to his home country without putting him on trial exposing mass surveillance that systematically violated the privacy rights of millions and even spurred modest reform."

Snowden—who potentially faces decades in U.S. prison for theft and Espionage Act charges—has previously said that he would return to the United States if he believed he would receive a fair trial.

A federal appeals court ruled two years ago that the NSA's warrantless surveillance of U.S. phone records—which Snowden exposed—was illegal. Snowden has continued to criticize years of impunity for the agency's violation of Americans' civil liberties.

"Our position has not changed. Mr. Snowden should return to the United States where he should face justice as any other American citizen would," Ned Price, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said Monday, also suggesting that the exile may be required to fight in Russia's war against Ukraine, despite his attorney's comments on the matter.

The Washington Post reported that White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment, only saying that "since I believe there have been criminal charges brought against him, we would point you to the Department of Justice for any specifics on this."

Meanwhile, in Russia, when asked if Putin will meet with Snowden, presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov reportedly said that "there are no such plans."

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