Edward Snowden may be settling in for a long stay in Russia, his lawyer indicated Wednesday, saying the National Security Agency leaker plans to start studying the Russian language and culture and that, for the time being, Russia is his final destination.
Anatoly Kucherena's comments came after the lawyer met with Snowden in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport amid Russian news reports that Snowden was about to receive documents that would allow him to leave the airport, where he's apparently been marooned for more than a month.
Some Russian news agencies cited unidentified sources as saying Kucherena would deliver the documents to Snowden, but the lawyer later said there was no such paperwork. Some Western media outlets, including the CBC, had picked up the reports.
The day's developments left the White House "seeking clarity" about the status of the man who revealed details of an NSA program to monitor internet and telephone communications.
On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department made clear its disappointment over Russia's decision to allow Snowden to stay. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters "any move that would allow Mr. Snowden to depart the airport would be deeply disappointing," adding that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had telephoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, weighed in, saying "any refuge to Edward Snowden will be harmful to U.S.-Russia relations."
Relations between Moscow and Washington are already strained over U.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.
When Snowden first arrived at Sheremetyevo, he was believed to be planning to transfer to a flight to Venezuela via Cuba to seek asylum. The U.S., which wants him returned for prosecution, canceled his passport, stranding him. He hasn't been seen in public since, although he met with human rights activists and lawyers July 12.
Russia final destination, for now
Snowden has applied for temporary asylum in Russia.
In a meeting with human rights activists two weeks ago, Snowden reportedly said he eventually wanted to visit Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, all of which have offered him asylum. But Kucherena cast doubt on those intentions after Wednesday's meeting.
"Russia is his final destination for now. He doesn't look further into the future than that," Kucherena said on state television.
The lawyer said that Snowden is staying in the transit zone "for now" and "intends to stay in Russia, study Russian culture."
The American applied for temporary asylum in Russia last week after his attempts to leave the airport and fly out of Russia were thwarted. The United States wants him sent home to face prosecution for espionage.
A spokeswoman for Russia's Federal Migration Service told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it had no information about the status of Snowden's application for asylum.
Lawyer brought Crime and Punishment
Snowden, who revealed details of the NSA's wide-ranging domestic and foreign spying activities targeting data and phone communication, is believed to have been staying at the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport since June 23, when he arrived on a flight from Hong Kong.
Kucherena told journalists that he has brought fresh clothes for Snowden along with several books for the American to read, including one by Anton Chekhov and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment.
The latter is about the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of a poor ex-student who kills a pawnbroker for her cash, and Kucherena said Snowden might find it interesting. But the lawyer told the Rossiya-24 television broadcaster: "I'm not implying he's going through a similar mental anguish."
President Vladimir Putin has said that Snowden can be granted asylum in Russia only if he stops leaking NSA secrets.
U.S. vote on limiting NSA spying expected
The surveillance programs Edward Snowden exposed are at the center of debate in Washington today. U.S. lawmakers are voting on a measure to scale back the NSA's reach. Supporters of the amendment say it's a matter of privacy while opponents say it's a matter of national security.
The latest news on Snowden comes as U.S. Congress was preparing to vote on whether to limit NSA spying powers, which would mark the first time Congress has weighed in since he leaked documents that revealed the NSA had collected phone records.