National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has received temporary asylum in Russia, his legal representative said Thursday, and has reportedly left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport for Russian soil.
The offer of asylum from Russia’s Federal Migration Service, confirmed to various news agencies by lawyer and Public Chamber member Anatoly Kucherena, marks an end to a weeks-long international saga that began with Snowden’s arrival from Hong Kong on June 23.
Kucherena, who has acted as Snowden’s legal representative in Russia, told news agency RIA Novosti the whistleblower has left the airport, where he spent more than five weeks languishing in the transit area, by himself in a private taxi. He was headed to a secure and undisclosed location, Kucherena said.
The temporary asylum reportedly allows the former NSA contractor to remain in Russia for up to one year.
The White House expressed disappointment at the latest development Thursday afternoon.
"We're very disappointed, extremely disappointed in Russia's decision to provide temporary asylum to Mr Snowden," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
Carney added that the Russian government had not let the US know that it would grant Snowden asylum.
The White House is now considering the utility of proceeding with a summit between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in light of the latest developments.
"We made clear both privately and publicly that there was ample legal justification for his expulsion from Russia and return to the United States, that's a discussion we've had with Russia as well as with other countries that might have been considering providing asylum to Mr Snowden."
In an interview with a Russian television network Wednesday, Snowden’s father, Lon, thanked the Russian government for protecting his son and suggested that remaining in Russia was the safest option for Edward.
But Russia’s offer of asylum to Snowden, wanted by the US government for uncovering a top secret and wide-ranging surveillance program, is likely to further strain relations between Washington and Moscow.
Putin had earlier shown signs that Snowden’s stay in Russia was proving increasingly uncomfortable for the Kremlin, but he has also refused to hand him over to US authorities.
Speculation has swirled over whether Obama will cancel the planned G20 summit with Putin in Moscow, slated for September.
Watch Carney's statement on the White House's response to Snowden being granted asylum: