Edward Snowden granted Russian citizenship

Last Monday, the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden was granted Russian citizenship by Vladimir Putin, joining a list of only 72 foreign-born people that Putin has granted citizenship to. Snowden has been living in Russia since 2013, when he escaped prosecution for leaking secret files on the NSA.

The news isn’t completely unprecedented — Pjotr Sauer of the Guardian explained that Snowden initially began the citizenship process in 2020, stating that he didn’t want to be separated from his soon-to-be-born son “in an era of pandemics and closed borders.” He’s had permanent residency rights since 2020, making the recent change only the next step in a years-long process.

“After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our sons,” Snowden explained in the Guardian’s article. “After two years of waiting and nearly ten years of exile, a little stability will make a difference for my family.”

Dave Davies of NPR explained that Edward Snowden, while working as an IT systems expert in contract for the NSA, traveled to Hong Kong to reveal thousands of top-secret documents about U.S. government surveillance on American citizens. While Snowden thought he was whistleblowing privacy abuses by the U.S. government in violation of the Constitution, the U.S. government saw him as a traitor due to the sensitive nature of these documents. There are similarly contrasting views on how this leaked information has impacted U.S. security. Snowden explained that he made the journalists agree to go to the government before publishing any information to ensure the information he provided was correct and that sharing it wouldn’t lead to direct harm. However, Richard Gonzales of NPR said the government’s point of view, which is that the reveals “did tremendous damage to the U.S.” with a report of examples of how Snowden has damaged national security, and the government spent millions to undo the damage.

Despite such back and forth on what happened, the BBC reported that in 2020, NSA surveillance of telephone records, as exposed to the public by Snowden’s leak, was ruled unlawful by a federal appeals court. However, they further explain that this ruling does not impact Snowden’s conviction — a conviction that Snowden has yet to go to court for. While trying to leave Hong Kong and reach Ecuador for asylum, Snowden’s passport was canceled due to his new standing as a traitor of the U.S. government, leaving him stranded at a Russian airport. He was trapped there for 40 days, with Russian intelligence trying to convince him to reveal any secrets in exchange for assistance (he refused), and Snowden trying to apply for asylum in other countries (they refused). Thus, Davies explains, Snowden’s settlement in Russia was never according to plan, and Snowden still maintains that he lives a life completely independent from any support by the Russian government.

It’s not that Edward Snowden wouldn’t be willing to go on trial for his crimes — he just doesn’t believe it would be a fair trial. Jamie Grierson of the Guardian said that Snowden would be willing to return to the U.S. if guarantees could be made of a fair trial where he could present “a public interest defense of why this was done and allow a jury to decide.” However, Snowden told Davies, the government has claimed that there cannot be a defense for this particular crime, meaning the only subject on trial would be whether or not he shared information — which it seems very clear that he did.

Whether or not Snowden ever stands trial will depend on whether the U.S. government decides to give him the type of trial he wants. But until then? It looks like he’s trying to make the best of his life in Russia, and stay close to his wife and son.