MOSCOW >> Edward Snowden has said that he never quite feels at home in Moscow. He looks away from traffic while crossing the street to avoid the cameras that Russian drivers often affix to their windshields, he wrote in a memoir published last year. And when going outside, he noted, he changes his appearance, down to the rhythm and pace of his walk.
But today he said he was applying for Russian citizenship.
Snowden, the former intelligence contractor whose disclosures of mass U.S. surveillance turned him into one of the highest-profile fugitives on the planet, said that he and his American wife were taking the step because they were expecting their first child. He described the move as a practical measure to give his family greater freedom crossing borders.
“After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our son,” Snowden wrote on Twitter. “That’s why, in this era of pandemics and closed borders, we’re applying for dual US-Russian citizenship.”
Russia has largely closed its borders since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and many foreigners with Russian visas have been unable to enter the country. Snowden’s son is due in December, Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told the news agency Interfax on Monday.
Snowden found himself stranded in Moscow in 2013 on a layover en route from Hong Kong to Ecuador. He had planned to seek asylum in the South American country, but the United States revoked his passport before he could make it there. After 40 days in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport, Snowden decided to stay in Russia, where he was granted asylum, and he has remained in Moscow ever since.
In 2013, he was charged with violating the Espionage Act, which carries a prison sentence. Sheltered from U.S. prosecution in Russia, he has become both a living symbol of President Vladimir Putin’s relish in needling the United States and a hero to many who say he laid bare U.S. intelligence agencies’ power to monitor people’s online activity around the world.
Snowden says that he has not cooperated with Russian intelligence services during his seven years in Moscow and that he hopes to someday return to the United States.
President Donald Trump said in August that he would “take a very good look at” a pardon for Snowden, but no such move appears imminent. Last month, Snowden received permanent residency in Russia, and his wife, Lindsay Mills, revealed that she was pregnant.
“Lindsay and I will remain Americans, raising our son with all the values of the America we love — including the freedom to speak his mind,” Snowden wrote on Twitter. “And I look forward to the day I can return to the States, so the whole family can be reunited.”
Snowden and Mills will be able to remain U.S. citizens thanks to a law that Russia’s parliament passed in April allowing people to become Russian citizens without renouncing their foreign citizenship. The measure, aimed primarily at Russian speakers in the former Soviet Union, was part of an effort by Moscow to counter the effects of a shrinking population.
Snowden has said that he lives in a rented two-bedroom apartment in Moscow, while learning Russian, trying to avoid being recognized on the street and earning money from conference appearances. He told the German newspaper Die Zeit in September that Russia “would not be my first choice” of where to live if he had been asked to predict the future 10 years ago.
But the weather, at least, has offered unexpected advantages.
“I never liked the cold until I realized that a hat and scarf provide the world’s most convenient and inconspicuous anonymity,” Snowden wrote in his memoir, “Permanent Record.”