Edward Snowden’s leave to remain in Russia has been extended for three years, his lawyer has said, as a Russian official said the whistleblower would not be extradited to the US even if relations improved under the incoming president, Donald Trump.
Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told RIA Novosti news agency that the permit had been extended until 2020.
He also said that as of next year, Snowden would have the right to apply for Russian citizenship.
Earlier on Wednesday, Maria Zakharova, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, wrote on Facebook that Snowden’s right to stay had recently been extended “by a couple of years”.
Her post came in response to a suggestion from the former acting CIA director Michael Morell that Vladimir Putin might hand over Snowden to the US, despite there being no extradition treaty between the countries.
Morell wrote a column for the website The Cipher Brief in which he said handing over Snowden could be “the perfect inauguration gift” from the Russian president to Trump.
Zakharova mocked Morell for not knowing, despite his intelligence background, that Snowden’s leave to remain had been extended. She added that it would be unthinkable for Russia to hand over Snowden.
“The essence of what this CIA man is suggesting is the ideology of betrayal. You’ve let it slip, Mr Morell, that for your agency it’s quite normal to offer up people as gifts, and to give up those who are seeking protection.”
The announcement came hours after the outgoing US president, Barack Obama, commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning. The whistleblower, who was serving a 35-year prison term, will go free in May.
Snowden has not commented on the extension of his right to stay in Russia, but did react to Obama’s decision to free Manning on Tuesday evening, writing on Twitter:
In five more months, you will be free. Thank you for what you did for everyone, Chelsea. Stay strong a while longer! https://t.co/PaLvJDvDbl
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 17, 2017
In November, Snowden said he believed there was a chance Putin might hand him over to Trump as part of a deal. “It’s possible.
It would be crazy to dismiss the idea of this guy who presents himself as a big deal maker [Trump] as trying to make a deal,” he said.
Snowden arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong in June 2013, and spent five weeks at the airport before he was eventually given the right to remain in Russia temporarily.
He was granted a three-year residence permit in August 2014.
During his early period in Moscow, Snowden did not criticise Putin or the Russian system, but he has recently become more outspoken about his adopted country.
He has been strongly critical of Russian laws to police the internet and has also allowed for the possibility that Russian government hackers broke into Democratic party servers, as US intelligence believes but Russia has repeatedly denied.