MOSCOW (AP) - American Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. Snowden's lawyer says the former U.S. government contractor has received papers allowing him to stay in Russia for a year.
Today he walked out of Moscow's airport, where he had been forced to remain since June 23. Snowden had flown to Moscow from Hong Kong, where he fled before disclosing secret U.S. surveillance programs.
Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden's legal representative, told RT, a Russian television network, that the papers issued by the Russian Immigration Service allow him to live, work and travel in Russia for a year. It can be renewed annually.
Snowden, who was blocked from travel after the U.S. revoked his passport and issued an international arrest warrant on espionage charges, has been offered permanent asylum by three Latin American countries.
Kucherena said Snowden left unaccompanied in a regular taxi, although WikiLeaks said Snowden was joined by Sarah Harrison, one of its activists.
"I watched him leave, he went to a safe place," RIA Novosti quoted Kucherena as saying
He said Snowden's whereabouts will be kept secret.
"He is the most wanted person on earth and his security will be a priority," the attorney added. "He will deal with personal security issues and lodging himself. I will just consult him as his lawyer."
Kucherena said the former NSA systems analysts "is ready to talk to press, but he needs a day for adaptation."
The Snowden affair has created diplomatic strains between Moscow and Washington, which has requested his extradition.
The Kremlin has said it will not return Snowden to the U.S., but has gotten assurances from Snowden that he will not engage in activities harmful to the United States while he has temporary asylum.
President Obama plans to travel to the annual meeting of the Group of 20 nations in St. Petersburg in September and had added a side trip to Moscow to meet with Putin.
The New York Times reported two weeks ago that the White House was considering canceling the Moscow portion of the trip because of the Snowden affair.
But Yuri Ushakov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, says Russia is confident that the latest development in the case will not affect President Obama's upcoming visit to Moscow.
"We are aware of the atmosphere being created in the U.S. over Snowden, but we didn't get any signals [regarding a possible cancellation of the visit] from American authorities," he told RIA Novosti.
Snowden has been charged under the Espionage Act for leaking information to reporters about the NSA's worldwide surveillance and data-gathering networks.
The 30-year-old former defense contractor has said he did what he believes was right to go public with the information in order to "correct this wrongdoing."
WikiLeaks, then online group that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources, hailed Russia's decision on Twitter.
"We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden," WikiLeaks said. "We have won the battle -- now the war."
AP, USA TODAY