National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden on Thursday left the Moscow airport where he has been staying for more than a month, traveling to an undisclosed location in Russia — a move that exacerbates the high-profile, diplomatic feud between the United States and Russia.
"Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning," Snowden said in a statement released by WikiLeaks, the anti-government-secrecy group aiding his travels. "I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations."
Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s lawyer, said on Thursday he gave the former government contractor temporary asylum papers approved by the Russian government. Snowden, who leaked extensive details about U.S. phone and Internet surveillance programs, is now allowed to stay in Russia for up to a year.
Out of fears for Snowden’s safety, Kucherena did not disclose where the ex-CIA official is now hiding.
President Obama has pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime to return Snowden to the United States since he traveled from Hong Kong to Moscow without a valid passport. Putin countered that he could not send Snowden to the U.S. because there was a chance the leaker could face the death penalty — an assertion that Attorney General Eric Holder dismissed.
As part of his temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden agreed to stop leaking secrets about American surveillance programs, Kucherena said. Putin previously said he could not take in Snowden without assurances the former government contractor would stop disclosing damaging information about the United States.
Snowden had been stuck in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since June 23 and only broke his silence recently in an attempt to gain public support for his cause.
Snowden has also received offers of asylum in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia but has expressed doubts about reaching those destinations without being detained by U.S. officials.