US whistleblower Edward Snowden granted Russian citizenship

Edward Snowden - Barton Gellman /Getty
Edward Snowden - Barton Gellman /Getty

Vladimir Putin has granted Russian citizenship to former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

The 39-year-old, who has been living in Russia for the last nine years, was one of 75 foreign nationals to become newly-minted citizens on Monday.

Mr Snowden fled the US and was given asylum in Russia after leaking explosive secret files in 2013 that revealed how the US spied on its own citizens and foreign allies.

Now living in Moscow, he has not spoken publicly about Russia’s war in Ukraine, but last week revived his blog that has been dormant since late last year to criticise the CIA.

Under a post titled America’s Open Wound, he said: “The CIA is not your friend.” It acts “free from all consequence and accountability”.

There had been speculation that as a Russian citizen, aged between 18 and 65 and male, Mr Snowden could be eligible to be drafted into the Russian army as the Kremlin looks to bolster its depleted forces in Ukraine.

However, his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told RIA news agency that his client did not fit the criteria for conscription.

“Since Edward did not serve in the Russian army, he does not have either the practice or experience of military service, so he is not subject to conscription.”

Nevertheless, Mr Snowden is seen as an asset by the foreign military intelligence agency known as the GRU and could be leaned on by the Kremlin for help with intelligence gathering.

As a contractor at the US National Security Agency, he saw the US’s spying operations first-hand before turning whistleblower and igniting a global conversation about mass surveillance.

Residents of Moscow's Central District who have been drafted into the army being transported to a military training camp - Getty Images Europe
Residents of Moscow's Central District who have been drafted into the army being transported to a military training camp - Getty Images Europe

US authorities have for years wanted Mr Snowden returned to the US to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.

As president, Donald Trump said he would “take a look” at pardoning Mr Snowden, but never did.

Mr Snowden married his US partner Lindsay Mills in a courthouse in Moscow and the couple have a one-year-old son and another baby.

Mr Snowden was granted permanent residency in 2020 and said at the time that he planned to apply for Russian citizenship, without renouncing his US citizenship.

“After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our son,” he said in a tweet at the time. “That's why, in this era of pandemics and closed borders, we’re applying for dual US-Russian citizenship.”

He added: “Lindsay and I will remain Americans, raising our son with all the values of the America we love – including the freedom to speak his mind. And I look forward to the day I can return to the States, so the whole family can be reunited.”

US appeals court

Later that year, a US appeals court found the programme that Mr Snowden had exposed was unlawful and that the US intelligence leaders who publicly defended it were not telling the truth.

Mr Snowden keeps a relatively low profile in Moscow, although he continues to speak and write on surveillance, and occasionally criticises the Russian government.

When opposition figure Alexei Navalny was poisoned in August, Mr Snowden said it was “a crime against the whole of Russia”, adding that “there can be no democracy without dissent”.

Putin, himself a former spy chief with the FSB, has said Mr Snowden was wrong to leak US secrets but was not a traitor.

Moscow relaxed its strict citizenship laws several years ago to allow individuals to hold Russian passports without rejecting their original nationality.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, meanwhile, told news agencies that Mr Snowden had received Russian citizenship as a result of his own request.

Mr Snowden’s lawyer said that his wife would now also apply for Russian citizenship.