‘Seun Ibukun-Oni, Abuja
President Vladimir Putin has granted Russian citizenship to former US security contractor Edward Snowden, according to a decree signed by the Russian leader.
Snowden is one of 75 foreign nationals granted Russian citizenship by the decree published on an official government website on Monday.
Snowden, 39, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency, has been living in Russia since 2013 to escape prosecution in the US after leaking classified documents detailing government surveillance programmes.
The documents revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the National Security Agency.
He was granted permanent residency in 2020 and said at the time that he planned to apply for Russian citizenship, without renouncing his US citizenship.
That year a US appeals court found the programme Snowden had exposed was unlawful and that the US intelligence leaders who publicly defended it were not telling the truth.
US authorities have for years wanted Snowden to be returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday that the US is not aware of any change in Edward Snowden’s American citizenship status.
“Our position has not changed. Mr Snowden should return to the United States where he should face justice as any other American citizen would,” he said.
“The only thing that has changed is that as a result of his Russian citizenship, apparently now he may well be conscripted to fight in a reckless war in Ukraine.”
The move comes at a time when relations between Washington and Moscow are at historic lows over the conflict in Ukraine.
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, who already has a Russian passport having been born in the country.
Snowden, who has kept a low profile in Russia and occasionally criticised Russian government policies on social media, said in 2019 that he was willing to return to the US if he is guaranteed a fair trial.
He has not commented on being granted Russian citizenship.
Putin, a former Russian spy chief, said in 2017 that Snowden was wrong to leak US secrets but was not a traitor.
Putin last week announced a mobilisation of Russian men to contribute to the army’s fight in Ukraine and Kucherena said Snowden would not be called up to serve given he had no prior experience in the Russian army.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov meanwhile told news agencies that Snowden had received Russian citizenship as a result of his own request.
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES