MOSCOW – Edward J. Snowden has said he never feels completely at home in Moscow. He looks away from traffic as he crosses the street to avoid the cameras Russian drivers often attach to their windshields, he wrote in a memoir published last year. And when he goes outside, he changes his appearance depending on the rhythm and pace of his walk.
But on Monday he said he was applying for Russian citizenship.
Mr. Snowden, the former intelligence entrepreneur whose US mass surveillance disclosure made him one of the world’s most famous refugees, said he and his American wife took the step because they were expecting their first child. He described the move as a practical measure to give his family more freedom to cross the border.
“After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our son,” wrote Snowden on Twitter. “That’s why we apply for dual US-Russian citizenship in times of pandemics and closed borders.”
Russia has largely closed its borders since the coronavirus pandemic began, and many foreigners with Russian visas have not been able to enter the country. Mr Snowden’s son, who is expected in December, will be granted Russian citizenship by birthright, Mr Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Interfax news agency on Monday.
Mr Snowden was stranded in Moscow in 2013 on a layover from Hong Kong to Ecuador. He had planned to seek asylum in the South American country, but the United States revoked his passport before he could make it there. After 40 days in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport, Mr Snowden decided to stay in Russia, where he was granted asylum, and has stayed in Moscow ever since.
In 2013 he was charged with violating the Espionage Act, which entails a prison sentence. Protected from American law enforcement in Russia, he is both a living symbol of President Vladimir V. Putin’s desire to pin the United States and a hero to many who claim he has denuded the power of American intelligence agencies to operate online Monitor activities of people around the world.
Mr Snowden says that he did not work with Russian intelligence services during his seven years in Moscow and that he hopes to return to the United States one day.
President Trump said in August that he would “look very carefully” into a pardon for Mr. Snowden, but such a move is not imminent. Last month, Mr Snowden became a permanent resident of Russia and his wife Lindsay Mills announced that she was pregnant.
“Lindsay and I will remain Americans and raise our son with all of the values of America that we love – including the freedom to speak up,” wrote Snowden on Twitter. “And I’m looking forward to the day I can return to the US so the whole family can be reunited.”
Mr Snowden and Ms Mills can remain American citizens thanks to a law passed by the Russian Parliament in April so that people can become Russian citizens without giving up their foreign citizenship. The measure, which was primarily aimed at Russian-speaking people in the former Soviet Union, was part of Moscow’s efforts to counter the effects of a shrinking population.
Mr Snowden has said that he lives in a rented two-bedroom apartment in Moscow while studying Russian, trying not to be recognized on the street and making money from conference appearances. He told German newspaper Die Zeit in September that Russia would “not be my first choice” if asked 10 years ago to predict the future.
But at least the weather brought unexpected benefits.
“I never liked the cold until I realized that a hat and scarf offered the most comfortable and unobtrusive anonymity in the world,” wrote Snowden in his treatise “Permanent Record”.