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Snowden formally asks Russia for asylum

Four days after saying he would seek temporary asylum in Russia, fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden finally did so yesterday, after telling a pro-Kremlin lawyer that he fears for his life.

The next move is Russia’s. Moscow has sought to keep its distance from Snowden since he arrived at the transit zone at Sheremetyevo International Airport on June 23 – unwilling either to expel him to the United States or to let him enter Russian territory.

But since last week, the Kremlin has evidently been preparing the way for an asylum request, as it became clear that Snowden has few options left.

Anatoly Kucherena, a member of Russia’s Public Chamber, a citizens’ advisory council, said he met with Snowden at the airport yesterday, explained to him the rules governing temporary asylum, then watched as the American handed his application to a government official who had been invited to the airport to receive it.

Appearing on Russian TV, Kucherena said Snowden wrote that his life would be under threat in the U.S. and that he fears torture and persecution if sent home. He has been charged in the U.S. with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 for revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

Russia’s Federal Migration Service has up to three months to consider Snowden’s application, an official told the Itar-Tass news agency. Temporary asylum, by law, is good for one year, but it can be extended.

For the time being, though, he faces a continued stay at Sheremetyevo or a move to a government shelter for refugees, the head of the Federal Migration Service’s Public Council, Vladimir Volokh, told the Interfax news agency.

Kucherena said Snowden has no specific plans to travel onward, but President Vladimir Putin said Monday that he doesn’t expect the American to stay in Russia for long, even if granted asylum. Snowden has said that he wants to take up residence in Venezuela or one of several other Latin American countries.

Yesterday was his 23rd day in the airport transit zone, where he has been stranded since arriving on a flight from Hong Kong.

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