Edward Snowden has filed an asylum application with
Russia, the Federal Migration Service confirmed Tuesday, more than
three weeks after the US whistleblower arrived at a Moscow airport.
"Yes, his application has been received," agency director Konstantin Romodanovsky told the Itar-Tass news agency. He said Snowden's case would be reviewed according to protocol - meaning it could take up to three months for a decision.
The application was confirmed by Wikileaks, which said on Twitter that Snowden had "filed for a temporary protection visa with Russia's ministry of immigration." The anti-secrecy group has aided Snowden's flight from US authorities.
Snowden has been stuck at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport since June 23 after Washington revoked his passport.
The United States, which has been pushing Russia to send the fugitive back to the US, repeated its calls for Snowden to return to face charges of espionage and theft of government property.
Snowden "should come home and have the courage to come face the charges against him," US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in Washington.
White House spokesman Jay Carney would not say whether the asylum application had been discussed with Russian officials.
He stressed President Barack Obama's administration hoped relations between the countries would not be damaged and said there were no plans to change travel plans by Obama to travel to Russia in September.
Obama is to attend the Group of 20 summit in St Petersburg and was to meet beforehand with Putin in Moscow.
Although Snowden was offered refuge in several Latin American countries, he has feared traveling there since the Bolivian president's plane was grounded over Europe on its way to La Paz earlier this month due to suspicion that Snowdown was on board.
However, he has also been reluctant to accept asylum in Russia since President Vladimir Putin made it clear that he would have to stop his leaking of sensitive US information.
After rejecting an offer July 2, Snowden met with experts and lawmakers at the airport Friday, where he apparently grudgingly accepted the prospect of being a refugee in Russia.
But he did not immediately hand in a formal application, leading Putin to say Monday that Snowden "is kind of changing his mind."
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the president was aware of Snowden's application but that the decision was entirely up to the migration service, Russian news agencies reported.
Anatoly Kucherena, a prominent lawyer with close links to the Kremlin who took up the case at Friday's meeting, said Tuesday that Snowden handed all necessary documents to a migration service officer who had come specially to the airport.
Snowden, a former contractor for the US National Security Agency, disclosed internet spying programmes and eavesdropping by Washington on European allies and countries like Russia and China.
Snowden argues in his application that his life would be in danger if he were to be extradited to the US, Kucherena said.
"He wrote that he fears for his life and safety, he fears that he might suffer torture or the death penalty," the lawyer said in televised comments.
The temporary asylum application is usually given to refugees whose request for political asylum has been turned down, according to rules published on the migration service' website and the Interfax news agency.
Kucherena stressed that the application does not give Snowden the right to formally enter the country.
However, an unnamed migration service official told Itar-Tass that a refugee could be issued a certificate allowing entry for the time during which his application is under review.
It was not immediately clear if or when such a certificate would be issued.
Human Rights activists have said that while Snowden has a right to receive asylum, choosing Russia is problematic because of the country's human rights record and its history of spying on its citizens.
Svetlana Gannushkina, a Moscow-based human rights expert, has pointed out that the only person to have been formally awarded political asylum in Russia since the break-up of the Soviet Union was former Azerbaijani president Ayaz Mutalibov.
However, Moscow has in the past informally offered refuge to a number of international fugitives. Among them are fallen officials from allied states, who enjoy visa-free travel with Russia, like family members of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.
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