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One of the big questions hanging in the air today is whether President Obama should cancel his scheduled trip to Moscow next month, now that Russia has granted temporary refugee status to Edward Snowden.
Snowden is the former intelligence contractor wanted by the U.S. for leaking information about U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs.
After he received the asylum documents from his lawyer this morning, Snowden reportedly took a cab alone as he left the Moscow airport for the first time in a month. He’d been stranded there since June 23, when the U.S. revoked his passport.
His departure from the airport comes one day after The Guardian newspaper published more of his leaks.
The U.S. has demanded that Russia turn over Snowden for prosecution, but Russia has refused.
Attorney General Eric Holder assured Russia last week that Snowden will not face the death penalty or be tortured in the U.S.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. In a moment we'll speak with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about some of the challenges public schools across the country are facing.
YOUNG: But first, where's Edward Snowden? We know he's no longer at the Moscow airport. This morning his Russian lawyer brought him the documents granting him asylum in Russia for a year. Snowden is, of course, the former NSA contractor who leaked details of the U.S. spying programs. The British newspaper The Guardian released more of those leaks yesterday.
Snowden can't leave Russia because the U.S. revoked his passport. The website WikiLeaks tweeted that Snowden left the Moscow airport with a WikiLeaks staffer, but other reports say he hopped in a cab by himself. NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us from Moscow, and Corey, do you know where he is?
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: We don't know, Robin. Snowden's Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, would only say that he's left the airport, where he's been for the last 39 days. Kucherena made a point, actually, of saying that Snowden's whereabouts will remain secret for security reasons. Kucherena called him the world's most wanted man.
YOUNG: What are Russian officials saying, though? That's the lawyer. What are officials saying?
FLINTOFF: Well, they're playing down this whole thing. One Kremlin spokesman today said today that relations between the U.S. and Russia won't suffer. He called this a relatively insignificant issue. But in general they seem to be playing down the importance, and that may be because they're concerned that President Obama might express U.S. displeasure by canceling a planned visit to Moscow by President Obama in September.
YOUNG: Yeah, well his spokesperson Jay Carney expressed displeasure in just a recent reaction at a press conference. Let's listen.
JAY CARNEY: We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very lawful requests, in public and in private, to have Mr. Snowden expelled to the United States to face the charges against him.
YOUNG: And Corey, remind us of the back-and-forth on this. Last week Attorney General Eric Holder assured Russia that Edward Snowden would not face the death penalty or be tortured in the U.S. Putin was said to have said that in order to be released, you know, sprung from the airport, Snowden would have to promise not to release more leaks. So remind us of some of the back-and-forth on this.
FLINTOFF: Exactly. He said that in fact Snowden would have to stop doing anything that might damage our American partners. And he said that more than once. And, you know, it's thought generally that Putin being a former KBG operative is not very sympathetic to the sort of - someone who's portrayed as an idealistic young man who may be releasing this information because of a kind of anti-secrecy feeling.
So it's - I talked to some analysts today who say there's a bit of risk here for Russia. If Snowden has already released more material, for instance, to The Guardian that could turn out to be embarrassing later on, and he no longer has control of it, it is going to look like Russia may be supporting him in doing things that are in fact damaging to the United States.
YOUNG: Well, one wonders, and it's only speculation, if that's why The Guardian dumped some information yesterday, to get that issue out of the way. But meanwhile there you are in Moscow, Corey Flintoff. What's the average Russian saying about all this?
FLINTOFF: You know not very much. You know, of course state television here is carrying it. They portray Snowden generally as being a kind of a heroic whistleblower. But I get the sense that, you know, for the average person in Russia, Snowden isn't much of an issue.
YOUNG: And do you think that he is with people from WikiLeaks or from the human rights groups that were there when he held a press conference in the airport? Do you have any sense?
FLINTOFF: You know, we haven't talked to the WikiLeaks people here, but they, in their tweets and in their statements about it, they make a point that this British lawyer, Sarah Harrison, has been with him throughout the entire time that he's been at the airport, for 39 days. And I think what they may be saying is that, you know, she may ultimately turn up as a witness to say that he wasn't somehow compromised by Russian security services during that time.
Other than that, we really don't know what WikiLeaks' role will be in this, and we won't know until Snowden himself starts talking to reporters.
YOUNG: Quite something, and we hope that you're the first.
FLINTOFF: Thank you.
YOUNG: Corey Flintoff, NPR's Moscow correspondent. Corey, thank you.
FLINTOFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.