Russian President Vladimir Putin has granted former NSA contractor Edward Snowden Russian citizenship, according to an official decree published on the Russian government portal Monday.
Snowden, who admitted to leaking information about US surveillance programs to the press, has been in Russia since 2013. He is facing espionage charges and up to 30 years in prison in the US.
In November 2020 Snowden and his wife applied for Russian citizenship. He had been already given permanent residency in Russia.
Snowden is one of 75 foreign citizens listed by the decree as being granted Russian citizenship. The decree was published on an official government website.
Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti that the former contractor’s wife Lindsay Mills, an American who has been living with him in Russia, will also be applying for a Russian passport. The couple had a child in December 2020.
Snowden, who has kept a low profile in Russia and occasionally criticized Russian government policies on social media, said in 2019 that he was willing to return to the U.S. if he’s guaranteed a fair trial.
He hasn’t commented on being granted Russian citizenship.
The move comes as Moscow is mobilizing reservists for what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. In Russia, almost every man is considered a reservist until age 65, and officials on Monday stressed that men with dual citizenship are also eligible for the military call-up.
Snowden, however, has never served in the Russian armed forces, so he is not eligible to be mobilized, his lawyer Kucherena told the Interfax news agency. Having previous combat or military service experience has been considered the main criteria in the call-up.
Snowden leaked documents that showed how the NSA collected huge amounts of data that passed through U.S.-based Internet companies. He also revealed details about the classified U.S. intelligence budget and the extent of American surveillance on foreign officials, including the leaders of U.S.-allied countries.
Snowden has said he made the disclosures because he believed the U.S. intelligence community had gone too far and wrongly infringed on civil liberties. He also has said he didn’t believe the administration of former President Barack Obama, which was in office when he leaked the records to journalists, would act had he made an internal whistleblower complaint instead.
He has since become a well-known speaker on privacy and intelligence, appearing remotely at many events from Russia. But he also remains controversial among members of the intelligence community, and current and former officials from both U.S. political parties say he endangered global security by exposing important programs.
Snowden’s decision to turn against the NSA came when he used his programming skills to to create a repository of classified in-house notes on the agency’s global snooping and as he built a backup system for agency data, he wrote in his 2019 book “Permanent Record.”
Reading through the repository, Snowden said he began to understand the extent of his government’s stomping on civil liberties and became sullen, “cursed with the knowledge that all of us had been reduced to something like children, who’d been forced to live the rest of their lives under omniscient parental supervision.”
Snowden was charged in 2013 with unauthorized disclosure of U.S. national security and intelligence information as well as theft of government property. The Justice Department also sued to stop Snowden from collecting profits on his memoir, saying he had violated his nondisclosure agreements with intelligence agencies.
Snowden’s acceptance of Russian citizenship is likely to drive more criticism against him from people who say he has remained silent on issues such as the conflict in Ukraine.