Russian media reported Wednesday that immigration officials had drawn up a document that Edward Snowden, the wanted NSA leaker, needs to leave a Moscow airport, where he has been holed up for a month to avoid being sent to face espionage charges in the United States.
Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said he hadn't yet received the paperwork, though, so his client will be staying put for the time being. Kucherena also said he brought Snowden a change of clothes and a book — Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment of all things.
However, Interfax and RIA Novosti both reported that the Federal Migration Service was going to give Snowden a certificate confirming that his request for temporary asylum in Russia was under review, which would allow him to leave the airport's transit area and legally enter Russian territory.
The conflicting reports could be a sign that Snowden's layover-from-hell is nearing a close. Still, his troubles will be far from over.
Technically, he will only be out of the woods for a couple of months, while immigration officials make a final decision on his temporary asylum bid. Then, if he gets in, he can breathe easily for a year.
Ultimately, Snowden is thought to want out of Russia. The temporary asylum would allow him to bide his time while he figures out how to get to one of several Latin American countries offering him asylum, without having to cross the airspace of a country that would nab him and send him to the U.S. Here's Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway:
He could stay in Moscow, but that’s likely to be enough of a complication for U.S.-Russian relations that Putin would prefer that he leave. As noted before, Snowden has pending asylum offers from Venezuela and Bolivia, as well as possible offers from Nicaragua and Ecuador, so one suspects he’ll be finding a way to one of those countries in the near future. [Outside the Beltway]
Kucherena, however, tells RT.com that Snowden, a former CIA contractor, is planning to start a new life in Russia. "He plans to get a job," Kucherena says. "I think the process of adaptation will take some time. It's an understandable process as he doesn't know the Russian language, our customs, and our laws."
That might not be such a good idea, though, suggests Geoffrey Norman at The Weekly Standard, because Moscow is the second-most expensive city in the world for expatriates, largely due to sky-high rents. If Snowden had shown up in the Soviet era, he might have been offered a cushy exile, like British double-agent Kim Philby did. "But times have changed," says Norman, "and big-time betrayal does not necessarily result, these days, in a lifetime sinecure."