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29 Jul, 2013 20:10

Spook out of water: What Snowden can expect if Russia grants him asylum

Spook out of water: What Snowden can expect if Russia grants him asylum

Invasive medical tests, a placement in a refugee center, and round-the-clock security observation are just some of the things whistleblower Edward Snowden could face in the coming weeks, if he finally steps out from the confines of a Moscow airport.

Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS) can take up to three months to consider an application – which Snowden submitted last week - although it is unlikely that the 30-year-old American’s papers have been lodged at the bottom of a pile on an immigration official’s table.

Prominent lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, who has served as the go-between for Snowden, told RT on Monday that he is “impatiently awaiting news that could come any time,” though declined to provide specifics. FMS officials have stated that an answer could be given within one working week, but say they first have to identify whether Edward Snowden is who he says he is, as his passport has been annulled, and they currently know his name “only from his own statements.”

If the application is accepted and Snowden is given the 12-month temporary asylum that enables him to leave the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport, he will have to undergo a daunting medical assessment designed especially for immigrants. Along with a standard screening for HIV and tuberculosis, he will also be checked for leprosy and the rare sexually-transmitted disease chancroid. Russian Health Ministry officials have said that they are ready to administer the tests at a moment’s notice, but so far have not been asked to do so by Snowden.

After Snowden registers his whereabouts with the police – to avoid risking a $150 fine - he will be free to apply for placement in a processing facility for asylum seekers. There are no such facilities in Moscow, and ones in the vicinity have been flooded with refugees escaping the Syrian conflict. Elena Ryabinina, a human rights lawyer who works with asylum seekers, told Gazeta.ru newspaper that most of her clients get offered a bed in a center near Perm - a city by the Ural mountains, more than 1,000 km east of Moscow.

A model Russian refugee center - although this facility is currently fully occupied (Photo from utiz.lipetsk.ru)

But despite numerous media articles claiming that Snowden would be legally obliged to stay at a processing center, Kucherena assures this is not the case.

“It’s up to Snowden where he lives once he leaves the airport. He doesn’t have to actually live in a facility provided by the state. It is up to him. He could go into a hotel, for example, and rent a room.”

But the Head of the Public Chamber of FMS Vladimir Volokh said on Friday that it’s a “bad idea” for Snowden to leave the airport at all, as his personal security cannot be guaranteed beyond its gates.

"I don't think it is good for Snowden to travel freely in Russia, as he is a wanted man,”
said Volokh.

Even if Snowden does acquire a personal bodyguard and a high security flat at an undisclosed location - presumably courtesy of the Russian state - his future is hazy, and the reality of it likely different to what he imagined when he recorded his first revelations.

A temporary asylum seeker is allowed to work, but not to put further strain on the testy relationship between Moscow and Washington. Vladimir Putin said “no longer undermining the US” is a pre-condition for his asylum bid, and the former NSA contractor publicly promised to comply when he met Russian human rights activists a fortnight ago. One wonders who it is that Snowden's bodyguards will be protecting from danger.

Although Moscow is no longer behind the Iron Curtain, and Snowden’s PRISM leaks did not lead to the unmasking of hundreds of secret agents, the parallel that draws itself irresistibly is the Cambridge Four.

Three of the top-level defectors – motivated by a sincere belief in Communism – were welcomed into the Soviet Union as heroes. Divorced from their members’ clubs in London with nothing in their schedule but the occasional lecture in front of KGB recruits, Kim Philby and Guy Burgess drank themselves to death in their state-allocated flats, awaiting a world revolution that never came. Don Maclean settled in better once he learned Russian - maybe a lesson Snowden could heed if he is in Moscow for the long haul.

Anatoly Kucherena.(RIA Novosti / Maxim Blinov)

Snowden has already publicly promised to study Russian culture, though whether he manages to get through the 12-volume monarchist classic History of the Russian state by 19th century historian Nikolay Karamzin – brought to him by Kucherena last week – will be the real test of his resolve.

Incidentally, the other Cambridge Four member, Anthony Blunt, decided to co-operate with the MI5, rather than flee to Russia, an option that will always be on Snowdon's mind, as he remains separated from his family and friend (though Blunt, of course, was never imprisoned).

Even if Snowden copes more successfully than his predecessors - and perhaps spends his time in solitude to focus on an autobiography that is sure to be a bestseller – there is a feeling that the most eventful part of his life could already be behind him.

“Snowden is here because he has been trapped,” said influential political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, who edits Russia in Global Affairs magazine.

“He will definitely not be allowed to carry on leaking data. In all likelihood, Snowden will have nothing to do in Russia.”