Snowden has been living in Russia since 2013 to avoid prosecution in the US for leaking classified documents.

MOSCOW, Russia — Russia on Monday granted citizenship to former U.S. intelligence official Edward Snowden, who fled prosecution after leaking classified U.S. information. tracking programs to collect messages and data from around the world.

In a decree signed Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Snowden became one of 75 foreign nationals to receive Russian citizenship. After fleeing the US in 2013, Snowden was granted permanent residency in Russia in 2020 and said then that he planned to apply for Russian citizenship without renouncing his US citizenship.

Ties between Washington and Moscow are already at their lowest level in decades following Putin’s decision to launch what the Kremlin has dubbed a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

While 39-year-old Snowden fans believe to be a righteous whistleblower who wanted to protect American civil liberties, members of the American intelligence services accused him put US personnel at risk and harm national security. He currently faces charges in the United States that could lead to decades in prison.

“Our position has not changed,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday. “Mr. Snowden must return to the United States, where he must stand trial like any other American citizen.”

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Snowden becomes a Russian citizen as Moscow mobilizes reservists to Ukraine. In Russia, virtually every man is considered a reservist until the age of 65, and officials stressed on Monday that men with dual citizenship are also eligible for military service.

However, Snowden has never served in the Russian armed forces, so he is not subject to mobilization, his lawyer Anatoly Kuchareno told the Interfax news agency. The main criterion for conscription is the presence of combat or military service experience.

Kuchareno told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that Snowden’s wife Lindsay Mills, an American who lives with him in Russia, will also apply for a Russian passport. The couple has two children.

“After two years of waiting and nearly a decade of exile, a little stability would mean a lot to my family,” Snowden tweeted on Monday. “I pray for privacy for them — and for all of us.”

Snowden, who kept a low profile in Russia and occasionally criticized the Russian government’s policies on social media, said in 2019 that he was ready to return to the United States if he was guaranteed a fair trial.

His acceptance of Russian citizenship is likely to invite more criticism of him from people who say he has remained silent on issues such as the conflict in Ukraine.

Snowden published leaked documents about the National Security Agency’s collection of data that passes through the infrastructure of US telephone and Internet companies. He also released details of the secret US intelligence budget and the extent of US surveillance of foreign officials, including leaders of US allies.

Snowden says he leaked the information because he believed U.S. intelligence had gone too far and wrongfully infringed on civil liberties. He also said he did not believe former President Barack Obama’s administration, which was in office when Snowden leaked the records to reporters, would have taken action if he had filed an internal whistleblower complaint instead.

The decision to speak out against the NSA came to Snowden when he used his programming skills to create a repository of classified internal memos about the agency’s global surveillance, and by creating a system to back up the agency’s data, he wrote in his 2019 book, “The Permanent Record.”

While reading the vault, Snowden said he began to understand the extent to which his government was infringing on civil liberties and became “cursed to realize that we were all reduced to something like children who were forced to live out the rest of our lives. lives under the omniscient supervision of his parents.”

Since then, Snowden has become a well-known speaker on privacy and intelligence issues, appearing remotely at many events from Russia. But it also remains controversial among members of the intelligence community, with current and former officials from both US political parties saying it has jeopardized global security by exposing critical programs. The US assessment of the damage from its disclosure is still classified.

Snowden was accused in 2013 with unauthorized disclosure of US national security and intelligence information and theft of government property. Each of the three charges carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Ministry of Justice also sued to prevent Snowden from profiting from his memoirs, saying he violated non-disclosure agreements with intelligence agencies.

On Monday, the White House referred comment on Snowden’s citizenship to the Justice Department, citing pending criminal charges.

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