Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked top-secret information to the press, has legal grounds to apply for Russian citizenship in the near future, according to Russian news reports quoting his lawyer.
Russian officials said earlier that Moscow had extended asylum for Snowden, who has lived in Russia since 2013 after fleeing the United States.
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Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden's lawyer, told Russian news outlet RIA Novosti that Snowden will now have "all grounds" to apply for citizenship, and that he will be eligible to do so after spending five years in the country. Snowden will therefore be eligible to apply next year.
"In effect, he now has all grounds to receive citizenship in the future, over the course of a certain period, since under the law we have a period of residence on Russia soil of not less than five years [to receive Russian citizenship]," Kucherena said, according to Reuters. The lawyer's statements have been widely quoted by Russian media outlets.
"Now he has already been living on Russian territory for nearly four years, he does not violate the law, there are no complaints about him. That's one of the reasons his residency permit was extended," Kucherena said.
A spokesman for Russia's foreign ministry said late Tuesday that Snowden's residence permit had been extended by a "couple" of years. Kucherena told RIA Novosti that Snowden's asylum had been extended until 2020.
Snowden leaked classified information on NSA surveillance activities to the Guardian in 2013.
The revelation about Snowden's asylum came after outgoing President Obama unveiled several high-profile pardons and commutations on Tuesday, among them Chelsea Manning, a former Army soldier who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified national security documents.
Petitioners have asked the White House to grant clemency to the former NSA contractor, though the Obama administration has maintained that Snowden's actions had severe consequences for national security.