Why is Edward Snowden in Russia? Was Russia Snowden’s choice for asylum? Is Edward Snowden in Russia currently?
A flight route that only went to non-extraditing countries landed Edward Snowden in Russia in 2013. With a canceled passport and no legal way to leave Russia, Snowden stayed for 40 days.
Learn how Snowden got asylum in Russia and where he lives now.
Before Russia: Snowden Leaks Top Secret Government Documents
Ed revealed the mass surveillance program to the public in 2013. In order to control the narrative, Ed decided to reveal his own identity as the whistleblower. (If the government revealed him first, they’d try to discredit him and shift the focus from their illegal activities to Ed’s.) Ed’s family and girlfriend back in the US were harassed by the government—his girlfriend went through long interrogations and was followed by the FBI 24/7.
Before Russia: Snowden Planned to Get to Ecuador
While he was in Hong Kong, the US government charged Ed under the Espionage Act for divulging top secret documents. When the US government called for his extradition, the government of Hong Kong wouldn’t protect him. With the help of WikiLeaks, Ed tried to get to Ecuador. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Ed couldn’t fly directly to Ecuador. The route was to fly to Moscow, then Havana, then Caracas, then Quito. It was the only possible route and it wasn’t perfect—there was a 20-hour layover in Russia. Snowden also had to go from Russia to Cuba crossing NATO airspace and going over Poland. Poland had helped the US government in the past, notably by allowing the CIA to torture people at black sites.
Edward Snowden in Russia: Trapped at the Airport
Unfortunately, his US passport was canceled. This stranded Edward Snowden in Russia during the layover. Ed had been trained by the intelligence community, especially the CIA, on how to go through customs inconspicuously. But, of course, his passport had his name on it, so he was automatically noticeable.
As Ed was going through passport control, he was told there was a problem with his passport. Two security guards took him and Sarah to a room where an agent of the Federal Security Service, one of Russia’s intelligence agencies, tried to recruit him. Ed cut the agent off right away—if you don’t stop a pitch and it’s recorded, a listener can decide that you were considering it, and even if you eventually say no, your reputation is still ruined. Edward Snowden in Russia didn’t mean he had to have his reputation ruined further.
The Russian officials told Ed that US minister John Kerry had canceled his passport. Sarah looked it up and discovered it was true. Ed was shocked that the US government would have stranded him in Russia, of all places.
With Edward Snowden in Russia without a passport, his options were limited. Ed was stuck in a Russian airport for forty days before the Russian government granted him temporary asylum. The president of Bolivia had attended the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Moscow, and when he left, the US diverted his plane to Vienna because they thought he had Ed aboard (the president had expressed solidarity for Ed).
This was hugely insulting to Russia and they knew the US would do the same thing again if they ever suspected Ed was on another plane. As a result, Ed got his asylum.
Edward Snowden in Russia: Current Status
In 2014, Lindsay visited Ed in Russia. Snowden eventually married Lindsay after she moved to Russia to join him. Ed still lives in Russia as of 2019, where he works for the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Permanent Record summary:
- What Ed Snowden discovered that caused him to completely lose faith in the government
- How Snowden led the bombshell reports of US mass surveillance
- How Snowden is coping with his treatment as both patriot and traitor