MOSCOW: Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, wanted by the United States for leaking extensive secrets of its electronic surveillance programmes, has been given a three-year residence permit by Russia, his Russian lawyer told reporters on Thursday.
The announcement comes at a time when Russia's relations with the West are at Cold War-era lows over Russia's actions in Ukraine. Russia responded to Western sanctions by banning certain food imports from the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway on Thursday.
"The decision on the application has been taken and therefore, with effect from Aug. 1, 2014, Edward Snowden has received a three-year residential permit," Anatoly Kucherena said. "In the future, Edward himself will take a decision on whether to stay on (in Russia) on and get Russian citizenship or leave for the United States."
He said Snowden could apply for citizenship after living in Russia for five years, in 2018, but that he had not decided whether he wanted to stay or leave.
Kucherena said Snowden was studying Russian and had an IT-related job, but did not provide details.
"He is a high-class IT specialist", he said.
He said Snowden's security was being taken seriously and that he was using private security guards.
"He leads a rather modest lifestyle, but nevertheless we proceed from the tone of statements that come from the U.S. State Department and other political figures," he said. "The security issue should not be treated as a secondary one."
Snowden's place of residence has not been disclosed and few pictures of him have appeared in the media.
His lawyer has in the past expressed concerns that he could be at risk, given taken his intelligence background and the outrage over the leaks expressed by U.S. authorities.
Snowden fled to Hong Kong and then Moscow last year after leaking details of secret state surveillance programmes.
He spent almost six weeks at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport before Russia granted him asylum for a year on Aug. 1, 2013, upsetting Washington, which wants to try him on charges including espionage.
Snowden is believed to have taken 1.7 million digital documents with him. His leaks revealed massive programmes run by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) that gathered information on hundreds of millions of Americans' emails, phone calls and Internet use.
He was charged last year in the United States with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorised person. (Reuters)