MOSCOW — National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden thanked Russia for granting him temporary asylum Thursday and said “in the end the law is winning.
The former defense contractor left the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport where he has been holed up since June 23, and went by taxi to an undisclosed location.
“Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning,” Snowden said in a statement issued by WikiLeaks. “I thank the Russian federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations.”
Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s legal representative, told RT, a Russian television network, that the papers issued by the Russian Immigration Service allow him to live, work and travel in Russia for a year and can be renewed annually.
Snowden has been charged under the U.S. Espionage Act for leaking information to reporters about the NSA’s worldwide surveillance and data-gathering networks.
The 30-year-old former NSA contractor has said he did what he believes was right to go public with the information in order to “correct this wrongdoing.”
Snowden, who was blocked from travel after the U.S. revoked his passport and issued an international arrest warrant on espionage charges, has been offered permanent asylum by four Latin American countries — Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.
In an interview Thursday with Rossiya 24 television, however, Kucherena said Snowden had “no plans” to leave Russia. He noted that Snowden had been reading classic Russian literature and learning the language.
Kucherena said that Snowden left the airport unaccompanied in an ordinary taxi, although WikiLeaks said Snowden was joined by Sarah Harrison, one of its activists.
“I watched him leave, he went to a safe place,” RIA Novosti quoted Kucherena as saying.
He said Snowden’s whereabouts will be kept secret.
“He is the most wanted person on earth and his security will be a priority,” the attorney added. “He will deal with personal security issues and lodging himself. I will just consult him as his lawyer.”
Kucherena said the former NSA systems analysts “is ready to talk to press, but he needs a day for adaptation.”
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration is “extremely disappointed” with Russia’s decision.
“Mr. Snowden is not a whistle-blower,” Carney said. “He is accused of leaking classified information.”
Carney said the United States would continue to speak with Russia about “the legal justification” of returning Snowden to the United States. “He is not a dissident,” he said.
Carney also said that Obama, who is scheduled to visit St. Petersburg, Russia, in early September for a G-20 summit, is undecided about a side trip to Moscow for private meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Obviously, this is not a positive development,” Carney said. “We are evaluating the utility of a summit.”
Yuri Ushakov, a Putin aide, said earlier that Russia is confident that the latest development in the case will not affect Obama’s visit to Moscow.
“We are aware of the atmosphere being created in the U.S. over Snowden, but we didn’t get any signals (regarding a possible cancellation of the visit) from American authorities,” he told RIA Novosti.
The Kremlin has said it will not extradite Snowden to the U.S., but has gotten assurances from Snowden that he will not engage in activities harmful to the United States while he is in Russia.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the No. 3 Democratic leader in the Senate, blasted Russia over its decision.
“Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife,” he said in a statement.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., condemned Russia’s actions as “a slap in the face of all Americans” and “a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States.” He said it was time to “fundamentally rethink” U.S. relations with Russia.
Alexander Konovalov, president of the Moscow-based Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis, in Moscow, said Snowden’s presence in Russia creates “additional problems” in relations between the two countries.
He said Russia would lose face by handing Snowden over to U.S. authorities directly, “but to send him off somewhere eventually — that would be in Russia’s interests.”
WikiLeaks, the online group that publishes secret information, news leaks and classified media from anonymous sources, hailed Russia’s decision on Twitter.
“We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden,” WikiLeaks said. “We have won the battle — now the war.”
WikiLeaks also tweeted that Snowden would issue an “important statement” later Thursday in light of the conviction of Pfc. Bradley Manning for espionage and theft. The U.S. soldier was convicted Wednesday for massive leaks of classified material to WikiLeaks.
Meanwhile, Snowden quickly landed a job offer from Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, founder of the social networking site Vkontakte, or VK, the Russian equivalent of Facebook.
“We invite Edward to St. Petersburg and will be glad if he joins our star team of programmers,” Durov said on his profile at VK.com. Durov said he felt “pride” over Russia’s decision to offer asylum to Snowden.
Snowden’s father, Lon Snowden, said in remarks broadcast Wednesday on Russian television that he would like to visit his son. Kucherena said he is arranging the trip, the Associated Press reported.
Contributing: Associated Press