Human Rights

Breaking: Russia Grants Snowden 1-Year Asylum

Russia becomes the first government to declare formal support to the NSA's public enemy.

After a month that seemed to almost guarantee a sequel to Tom Hanks's The Terminal, former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden, wanted by the United States for leaking details of confidential surveillance programs headed by the NSA, has received temporary asylum in Russia, and has officially left his prolonged sleepover at the airport. 

Snowden's one-year sanctuary in Russia marks the first bit of formal support from another major government since Snowden first left the United States and began leaking details of NSA surveillance of the emails of all Americans, and is a decision sure to elicit strong objections from the U.S. and other supportive nations. 

Until today, Snowden had been seeking refuge in the international transit zone airport, while the Russian Federal Migration Service delayed the processing of his temporary asylum application for longer than the customary week. During the slow process, however, Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, made clear that they had no plan to extradite Snowden to the United States, infuriating the Obama administration and bringing into question why the bureaucratic process of filing the extradition paperwork was taking so long. But paperwork and government bureaucray do not exactly make for an efficient combination.

The blowback is already beginning:Though Mr. Putin has insisted that Snowden's presence in Russia should not cause any strain or tension between the two countries, President Obama has hinted that he may cancel a planned summit meeting in Moscow in September. The State Department has yet to make any formal declaration, though just weeks ago it stated that any allowance for a move outside the airport—which would essentially signal a formal acceptance of Snowden's exile—would be "deeply disappointing."

Rod Bastanmehr is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @rodb.