MOSCOW (AFP) – US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was set Wednesday to leave the Moscow airport transit zone where he has been holed up for the last month after being provided with a document allowing him to officially enter Russia, reports said.
The state RIA Novosti news agency said the document confirms that his application for asylum in Russia is being considered and allows him to cross into Russia proper so long as border guards do not object, it said.
The news agency added that the document was initially given to the lawyer helping him, Anatoly Kucherena, who was now at Sheremetyevo airport and meeting Snowden in a secure zone.
A large crowd of media was already outside a door marked “staff only” on the lower floor of Terminal E at Sheremetyevo, with police and security guards keeping tight control, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
The Interfax news agency said Snowden, who is wanted by the US on espionage charges for revealing a vast spying programme, could leave the airport in the “next hours”.
“The American is currently getting ready to leave. He is being provided with new clothes. The document will be given to him by Kucherena,” Interfax said.
RIA Novosti cited a source within the Russian border guards service as saying he would be allowed to leave the airport as soon as he presents the document.
He would not cross the border with regular passengers but through a special channel, the Interfax news agency reported.
The migration service declined to comment and there was no official confirmation that he was preparing to cross into Russian territory.
Snowden earlier this month applied for asylum in Russia, a process that could take up to three months.
Kucherena has said Snowden may even apply for Russian citizenship and is interested in looking for work in Russia.
Hosting Snowden risks further straining relations between Russia and the United States. But Russia has refused to hand Snowden over, saying it has no extradition treaty with Washington.
Snowden arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23.
The former contractor for the National Security Agency was checked-in to fly on to Cuba the next day but he never boarded the plane to Havana.
He ended up marooned at the Moscow airport after the United States revoked his passport.
With the help of Sarah Harrison, an employee of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, the 30-year-old applied for asylum in 27 countries but most of the nations denied him a safe haven under pressure from Washington.
Three countries in Latin America known for their anti-US stance — Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela — have said they would be willing to give refuge to Snowden.
But there are doubts about whether the American will be able to travel on to Latin American after Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane flying from Moscow earlier this month was forced to land in Vienna and searched amid suspicions Snowden was on board.
Breaking his silence for the first time since arriving from Hong Kong, Snowden on July 12 summoned several rights activists and Kremlin-friendly lawyers for a dramatic, closed-door meeting at Sheremetyevo airport.
He told them he would apply for asylum in Russia and asked them to petition President Vladimir Putin on his behalf.
On July 16, Snowden applied for temporary asylum with the help of Kucherena, a pro-Kremlin lawyer who participated in the airport meeting.
The Kremlin has sought to keep Snowden’s case at arm’s length but observers said the activists’ meeting at the state-controlled airport would have never been possible without government involvement.