Edward Snowden, the United States’ most notorious surveillance whistleblower, now holds a Russian passport. In exchange for the document, Snowden, considered both a patriot and a traitor in the U.S. depending on who you ask, has reportedly sworn an oath of allegiance to the Russian state.
The former NSA contractor’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucheren, reportedly confirmed the exchange in an interview with Russian state media TASS. The surprising turn of events comes around two months after Russian president Vladimir Putin unexpectedly granted Snowden Russian citizenship. Lindsay Mills, Snowden’s wife who fled with him to Russia following his NSA revelations in 2013, is also currently applying for Russian citizenship.
“Yes, he received a passport,” Kucheren said. “He took the oath.”
Individuals who take that oath of allegiance, according to The Washington Post, are required to “protect the freedom and independence of the Russian Federation, to be loyal to Russia, [and] to respect its culture, history and traditions.” Those may sound like major concessions, but Snowden’s lawyer says they are worth it because she believes they should legally prevent Snowden from being extradited to the United States. Snowden still faces charges in the U.S. for allegedly violating the Espionage Act.
“He [Snowden] is, of course, happy, thanking the Russian Federation for the fact that he received citizenship,” Kucheren said according to The Post. “And most importantly, under the Constitution of Russia, he can no longer be extradited to a foreign state.”
Snowden himself did not immediately comment on the reports.
Nearly 10 years have passed since Snowden blew the lid off the NSA’s vast domestic and international spying apparatus. Those leaks kicked off an international manhunt that led Snowden to seek asylum in 27 different countries. Eventually, Snowden landed in Russia. Since then, Snowden has worked, usually on the other end of a video call screen, as a civil liberties advocate, technologist, and critic of the U.S. national security agencies. During that time, the whistleblowers’ relationship with the Russian state was tenuous and complicated. Though Snowden has spoken critically about the Russian state and Putin on occasion, his role as possibly one of the U.S’ highest profile fugitives made him a particularly valuable tool for Russia.
Snowden has maintained he would return to the U.S. if given the opportunity to face a fair trial. Though Snowden and many of his supporters maintain his NSA disclosures clearly benefited the public, the Espionage Act under which he’s charged reportedly prevents defendants from arguing their actions were made in the public interest. That legal dead end reportedly led Snowden to seek a presidential pardon, first from Barack Obama and then later from Donald Trump. The latter appeared to signal some interest in that idea, telling the New York Post he believed Snowden was, “not being treated fairly.”
Supportive or not, Trump ultimately lost the presidential race in 2020. Seeing his options regarding a pardon withering away, Snowden publicly announced he was applying for dual U.S./Russian citizenship in the interest of maintaining his familial life.
“After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our SONS,” Snowden wrote on Twitter. “After two years of waiting and nearly ten years of exile, a little stability will make a difference for my family.”
Still, the passport and citizenship approval comes during one of the bleakest moments in Russia’s recent history. The country continues to engage in a war with Ukraine that has left it isolated from most of the international community. During that time, rights groups have accused Russia of taking part in war crimes and escalating fears of potential nuclear conflict.