Defying the United States, Russia granted Edward Snowden temporary asylum Thursday, allowing the National Security Agency leaker to slip out of the Moscow airport where he has been holed up for weeks in hopes of evading espionage charges back home.
The 30-year-old former NSA contractor now has plenty of room to roam throughout the sprawling country and continue the bizarre journey that already has stretched across half the planet — from Hawaii to Hong Kong to the Russian capital.
The move infuriated the U.S. administration, which said it was “extremely disappointed” and warned that the decision could derail an upcoming summit between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The asylum offer places a significant new strain on already-corroded relations with Washington amid differences over Syria, U.S. criticism of Russia’s human-rights record and other disputes. But Russia appears to have reckoned that ending Snowden’s airport limbo was worth intensifying the political standoff. The decision gives Russia cover to depict itself as a defender of human rights, pointing a finger to deflect criticism of its own poor record and tough crack-down on dissent.
Snowden himself made that argument. In a statement issued by WikiLeaks, which has been assisting him, Snowden was quoted as saying that “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.”
“I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations,” he said.