Somewhere on Russia’s vast territory, reading books and awaiting the arrival of his father, lurks the US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, one of the most wanted individuals on the planet.
But over a week after Moscow granted him asylum, his hiding place is still unknown, adding to the aura of mystery that has surrounded the fugitive ex-intelligence contractor since he arrived in Russia on June 23.
The concrete facts about Snowden’s stay in Russia, after he was allowed on August 1 to leave the Moscow airport transit zone where he had been holed up for five weeks, are at best scanty.
The 30-year-old is in a “safe place”, according to his Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena. Yes, he is on Russian territory. He may be in Moscow, or outside. And no, his whereabouts will not be disclosed for security reasons.
Snowden has been registered — a legal obligation for any foreigner in Russia — but it is not clear where. He is running out of money and sympathetic Russian senator Ruslan Gattarov is organising an appeal to raise funds.
Like the Abominable Snowman or aliens from outer space, there are occasional rumours of Snowden sightings but they never stand up to serious scrutiny.
The United States, which wants to put Snowden on trial for leaking details of a vast surveillance programme, only found out about his obtaining asylum in Russia from the local media and has no idea where he is, according to people familiar with the situation.
He has joined a select but colourful list of notorious figures who have found refuge in Russia over the last decades, including the brother of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic and the British double agents who passed secrets to the USSR.
— ‘A nightmarish road’ —
Snowden is now waiting for the arrival of his father Lon, who has applied for a visa to visit Russia and may be able to travel in the next weeks.
“Edward is waiting for the arrival of his parents and friends to take decisions on a range of important questions,” Kucherena said in an interview with the Voice of Russia radio station on August 6.
“He has been on a difficult road. I would say a nightmarish one. He needs to go through a period of adaptation.”
Kucherena, who has been the sole source of public information about Snowden, has now gone on holiday for a month, assistants at his office who took a call transferred through his mobile told AFP.
“You want to talk to Kucherena about Snowden? Why talk to us? Kucherena is on holiday until September. He has not left a replacement,” said one assistant.
Kucherena has said that Snowden spends his time learning Russian and reading translations of Russian novels. He also wants to try out Russian food and travel in the country.
“But the level of security he needs does not allow him to take a stroll on Red Square or go fishing somewhere,” the lawyer added.
According to the federal migration service, with his one-year temporary asylum Snowden has the right to go anywhere on Russian territory and take any work outside of the civil service.
Whether Snowden will ever be able to lead anything resembling a normal life in Russia remains unclear and it is possible he could still go back to his original plan of travelling on to asylum in Latin America.
Snowden’s enemies might point to comments made by President Vladimir Putin himself in July 2010 in the wake of a major spy swap with the United States that the lives of “traitors” always end badly.
“They finish up as drunks, addicts, on the street,” said Putin.
The British double agents who fled to Moscow in Soviet times enjoyed wildly different fates.
George Blake, who was sprung to freedom from Wormwood Scrubs prison in 1966, lives at the ripe age of 90 a quiet life in Moscow, where he is known as Georgy Ivanovich and enjoys receiving family visits from Britain.
However, Kim Philby’s life in the Soviet Union from his flight in 1963 up until his death in 1988 was blighted by loneliness, depression and drink problems.
Copyright (2013) AFP. All rights reserved.
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