Snowden's Lawyer 'Russia Will Not Hand Him Over'

Now that Russian authorities have provided him with papers, Edward Snowden will soon be able to leave the transit zone of the Moscow airport, where he has been holed up for weeks. In an interview, his lawyer discusses the whistleblower's plans and how Russia is testing the US.

Snowden during a press conference at Moscow's international airport on July 12.
DPA/ Human Rights Watch

Snowden during a press conference at Moscow's international airport on July 12.

For weeks, Edward Snowden has been stuck at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport. Now, the waiting appears to be almost over. Russia's immigration service has ended its first review of his asylum application and provided Snowden with documents that will give him permission to move freely within Russia for now. A final decision on whether Russia will provide the whistleblower with a safe harbor is expected to be made within the coming months, the amount of time generally required to consider asylum applications.

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, discusses the 30-year-old's worries and how Snowden spent his time in recent weeks. "He surfed the Web a lot and chatted with his friends," the Russian said. The lawyer also clarified that the United States has so far made no extradition request for his client, which has come as a surprise, but said that the US Embassy has expressed a desire to meet with him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are Snowden's plans? Where will he stay in Russia?

Kucherena: He can decide that himself. Perhaps he will take an apartment or a room in a hotel. He could also move to Novosibirsk or another Russian city. We are receiving many offers from people who are offering him a place to stay. Many of the offers are from young women.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And which ones will he take seriously?

Kucherena: He's flattered by the attention of the Russian people. At the same time, the interest is so great that I missed 464 phone calls after my first meeting with him, most of them from journalists. We must also think about his safety.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Few others have had the chance in recent days to speak as much with Edward Snowden as you have. How is he doing?

Kucherena: At times Edward told jokes, but overall he seemed a bit down. He was stuck there the entire time in this capsule hotel. The conditions are OK, he says. But it was for all practical purposes a house arrest. He was trapped and didn't know exactly what he should do. When we met with him for the first time, we wanted to take a picture together with him. He refused because he was very concerned about his own safety.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is he afraid of?

Kucherena: Not a single day passes without Washington threatening yet another country with sanctions if it provides Snowden with assistance. And hardly a day passes without some kind of statement from the State Department. Of course that troubles him. In the event of an extradition to the US, he fears torture or the death penalty. That's why he is seeking asylum in Russia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So he hasn't left the airport's transit zone at all over the weeks?

Kucherena: I am convinced of this. If he had been able to leave the terminal, at the very least he could have gotten another shirt. I have seen him in the same clothing over and over again. He doesn't have much he can change into.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Did the intelligence service shield him? Who is with him?

Kucherena: Why should he be shielded? The transit zone is a restricted area. It's not easy for anyone to just get in there. It is a secure area. The only person with him is Sarah Harrison of Wikileaks.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did Snowden spend his time?

Kucherena: He surfed the Web a lot and chatted with his friends. He plans to learn Russian. I gave him a spelling book so that he can learn his ABCs in Russian.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did you communicate with him?

Kucherena: Only by telephone or in person. He called and said he wanted a meeting. Then I drove to meet him. We don't discuss anything by telephone and we speak to each other with the help of an interpreter.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What kind of specific help did Snowden need from you?

Kucherena: During our second meeting, I asked him why he was staying at the airport for so long. "I don't know what I should do," he answered. I help him to understand the legal situation in Russia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you assisting him with his asylum application?

Kucherena: He claimed he had requested asylum in 21 countries. I then explained to him that wasn't legally possible. He can only file an asylum application in the place where he is currently located. Anything else is virtual.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did Snowden submit his asylum application in Russia?

Kucherena: The application has to be personally delivered. So far Edward has not been able to leave the transit zone. So he handwrote a declaration of intent. We handed it over to Russia's immigration authority. I made a telephone call to the immigration authority and then a representative of the authority came to the airport. An asylum application may not be sent by mail. An official has to receive it. He looked to make sure that Edward signed every page of the application personally.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have the Americans made contact with him?

Kucherena: The embassy called me; they want to have a meeting. But what surprises me is that the US still hasn't made an appeal for extradition. I repeat: America has not filed a request for extradition. And America also hasn't said that Snowden's claims are false. Snowden has opened the world's eyes.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is Snowden's motivation?

Kucherena: We all know what normally drives humans -- greed, money, women. But with him, I haven't been able to detect any of this. I've looked him in the eyes. He has ideals. He knows that no one is going to give him a mansion on a South Sea island for his revelations. His goal is to open the eyes of the Americans, the Europeans and the world. They should know that their correspondence is being monitored.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is Snowden a propaganda gift for Moscow, or more of a burden because his case could worsen already strained relations with the US?

Kucherena: I don't deal with politics on a grand scale. But Russia can't do anything but help him. Snowden is acting out of conviction. What kind of lawyer wouldn't want to take his case? It's important to me to defend him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did it come to pass that officials close to the Kremlin were present at the meeting with Snowden?

Kucherena: He invited people who are well-known in Russia and are often on the public stage. Very different types of people were there, including those from Amnesty International.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Hasn't Snowden long since been taken under the wing of Russian intelligence? Someone must have helped him find you and make other contacts.

Kucherena: If he had wanted to speak with the agents, he would have contacted them directly. I assume that Wikileaks helped him with the invitation list for the meeting.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Russia has an enormous intelligence apparatus. Tapped phone calls of opposition members sometimes turn up in media sources that sympathize with the Kremlin. Isn't the demonstrative show of support for Snowden a bit hypocritical?

Kucherena: I am for honesty. The Americans preach from the pulpit that they protect their constitution, that people come first, and that their rights and freedoms are inviolable. Of course, the laws allow special operations and limitations for things like the fight against terrorists, but not on such a scale as this!

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What does Snowden know about Russia?

Kucherena: He has only general ideas about our country. But he is interested in our culture. He has asked about the Bolshoi Theater. When everything is decided and he can finally leave the airport, he will certainly need time to get his bearings in Russia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can you rule out the possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin isn't making a deal with US President Barack Obama after all?

Kucherena: Russia will not hand him over.

Interview conducted by Benjamin Bidder and Matthias Schepp in Moscow

Discuss this issue with other readers!
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Inglenda2 07/24/2013
How desperate must someone be to put their trust in someone like Mr. Putin? I seem to remember Mr. Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, or was that just a bad dream? Edward Snowden appears to be on a no win trail just at the moment, but that is often the price to be paid for civil courage. An honest, democratic government, whose members are not corrupt, or do not lie to their constituents, remains only an apparition within the mind of the perceiver, but whether a dictator, like Putin, can be the better alternative is a question which only the future can answer. Mr. Snowden is certainly not to be envied, for neither the American, nor the Russian secret services are known for their respect of human-rights.
Jim in MD 07/24/2013
2. Bird in a Leaden Cage
Of course, the damage is done, as Barack Obama has indicated. He's largely a parrot of Putin to make ordinary Russians feel better about their own deferred dreams. Let Snowden live out his ideals under Putin and report back to his parents and friends over the years. It should be informative.
peskyvera 07/24/2013
3. optional
The media, never failing to seek sensationalism, should keep this totally quiet until Snowden has found a safe place outside of the Moscow airport. The US will continue to hound Snowden and the media is making it easier for Washington to locate him.
DeNuS 07/24/2013
4. How Many Secrets?
Greenwald is saying that there are 1000s of pages of secret information from Snowden. Quite noticable is the resistance the German government to all this talk of spying. It will be interesting to see how much Snowden really knows as time passes. Perhaps he can give us the answer as to why Germany, 68 years after WWII, is still apologizing to Israel.
plutocrat 07/24/2013
5. Conclusion
Finally, this dirty game played by US on expense of one young and honest person is finally over and he might once again start to breath freely. Hope that this is the final act and that Mr Snowden will face no other injustices or mistreatment from any side. Hope as well that the EU will muster enough courage and ask him either to witness in person against US spying affair or to issue an affidavit in any form to EU commission investigating US spying business. Best of luck and my best wishes Mr Snowden. In EU lots of very ordinary people sympathize with you and wish you all the best. We owe you a lot.
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