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Is Snowden Violating His Russian Asylum Conditions?

July 2013 protests in support of Edward Snowden in Frankfurt, Germany
July 2013 protests in support of Edward Snowden in Frankfurt, Germany
Galina Dudina, Elena Chernenko and Ivan Safronov

MOSCOW — The U.S. government is convinced that Edward Snowden is violating Vladimir Putin’s “ultimatum.” The Russian president had said in July that the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower could stay in Russia only if he “stopped his work that was meant to cause damage to our American partners.”

In August, Snowden was granted asylum in Russia for one year.

Washington is equally convinced that the Western press, which has continued publishing classified materials from Snowden’s archive, is communicating with Snowden. His willingness to help German security forces investigate the monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone has also provoked anger in Washington. “Snowden’s actions in Moscow obviously damage the national interests of the United States,” one high-level White House source said recently.

The Kremlin does not agree. “These materials published by the German media were not distributed from Russia,” said Putin’s press secretary Dmitrii Peskov.

Snowden himself has said several times that he gave his entire archive to Western journalists while he was in Hong Kong, and that he no longer has access to the documents. “No one will allow him to break the condition of not damaging the United States,” Peskov said. “But he has received temporary asylum in Russia through legal means, and is free to meet with whomever he wants. We can not prevent him from doing so.”

European media recently revealed that the NSA’s surveillance reach included both European citizens and heads of state. Journalists based their revelations on documents provided by Snowden. Among the revelations was that the NSA had spied on Merkel’s private cell phone. And although the White House has assured Merkel that she is no longer being monitored, German security forces have been working to verify those assurances.

Welcome in Germany?

The German parliament hopes that Snowden will be a key witness in the investigation.
The Bundestag has scheduled hearings on NSA actions for Nov. 18, and Green Party MP Hans-Christian Ströbele recently met with Snowden in Moscow. “He expressed a general willingness to help illuminate the situation,” Ströbele told German television after a three-hour conversation with Snowden. According to Ströbele, Snowden “made it clear that he knows a lot.”

German law enforcement is also counting on Snowden’s assistance. “If he is prepared to talk with German officials, we will find a way to make that conversation possible,” said German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich. “Every explanation, any facts or information that we can get, will be useful.” The German Justice Minister likewise voiced support for Snowden’s appearance on the witness stand.

According to reports from German newspaper Die Welt, the Bundestag’s legal department has already prepared a report detailing the grounds for questioning Snowden in Berlin. The document says that the German Ministry of Internal Affairs could protect Snowden from deportation to the U.S. if it is in the best interests of the German government.

But Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena explained that as a temporary refugee Snowden is not allowed to leave Russia. “If they were to offer him asylum, that would be another thing,” Kucherena said. “But refugee status is only valid in the country that granted it, according to both Russian and international law.” Berlin is prepared to send a special delegation to Moscow to take a witness statement from Snowden.

Kucherena is convinced that Snowden isn’t violating the conditions that Putin established for his staying in Russia. “We are talking about material that he gave journalists when he was in Hong Kong,” he said. “He has not given anyone any new documents from here.”

Snowden gave Ströbele a letter to give to German officials. In it, he expresses his willingness to help Germany, which was among the NSA’s targets. “My government continues to treat dissent as defection,” the letter said. “... I look forward to speaking with you in your country when the situation is resolved.”

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