Whistleblower Edward Snowden, who informed the world public in 2013 about the activities of the US intelligence agency NSA, has been granted Russian citizenship. Snowden has lived in Russia since 2013 after fleeing the U.S. to avoid prosecution.
Citizenship applied for in 2020
Snowden published classified documents nine years ago that revealed the U.S. intelligence agency NSA’s extensive Internet and other telecommunications surveillance, covering virtually the entire planet. In addition, Snowden released a video in which he justified his move and classified the published data. In the course of the publication of the secret documents, it became obvious that both the U.S. and the United Kingdom monitor almost all global data traffic without suspicion and store the data obtained in the process. As a result, the so-called NSA affair unfolded: the surveillance activities of several countries and their connections became public. In Germany, for example, it became apparent how closely the Federal Intelligence Service in particular cooperates with the NSA – including in telecommunications surveillance within Germany. In addition to the mass surveillance of private communications, the extent of the surveillance of alleged partners also became clear. For example, the BND helped the NSA to monitor the French Foreign Ministry or the EU Commission. It also became clear in the course of the investigations triggered by Snowden’s publications that the surveillance activities were always carried out with the approval of the governments – the German Chancellor’s Office, for example, was informed. In 2015, the documentary Citizenfour, which can be downloaded free of charge, was published and deals with Snowden’s revelations as well as his person.
The extent of the revelations and the worldwide consequences they entailed made Snowden arguably the world’s best-known whistleblower. In all likelihood, a long prison sentence awaits him in the U.S., which is why Snowden first fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia. According to his own statements, Snowden originally planned to continue his journey to Ecuador. However, he has lived in Russia since 2013, where he married his longtime partner Lindsay Mills in 2017 and became a father in late December 2020. Also in late 2020, Snowden applied for Russian citizenship, which has now been granted.
Snowden remains a US citizen
However, the Russian citizenship granted by Vladimir Putin by decree does not change the fact that Snowden is a U.S. citizen. Snowden himself had stated in 2020 that he did not want to give up his U.S. citizenship, which is possible due to the change in Russian laws in this regard that took place some time ago. The U.S. State Department has also stated that it is not aware of any change regarding Snowden’s citizenship.
By accepting Russian citizenship, Snowden is likely to remove himself from the political sphere to an even greater extent than before. Since Snowden has been living in Russia, he has hardly taken a critical stance on Russian politics. While his Twitter account contains numerous critical statements on U.S. policy, not a single entry there deals with the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine. In this sense, Snowden can be accused of inconsistency, since his commitment to civil liberties does not go as far as taking a stand against Russia and endangering his security there. Snowden’s dubious role in this sense offers plenty of room to use his naturalization for anti-Western propaganda, which is already happening in the corresponding Telegram channels.
On Twitter, criticism of Snowden stirred for the aforementioned reason. For example, a comment on a tweet that has been liked more than 1,800 times calls on him to resign as president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation: “I call on you to resign as president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation and stop making a mockery of our profession by participating in a fascist dictatorship that executes journalists in cold blood. You are a disgrace. Resign.” Other comments are more moderate, but still similarly critical: “Preferring personal comforts to activism is a choice I can understand, Edward. But don’t ever pretend to speak truth to power again.” Reference is also made to a January 2021 tweet by Snowden: “I would rather be without a state than without a voice,” which is in clear contrast to his acceptance of Russian citizenship.
Snowden himself called on Twitter for peace and privacy for himself and his family. He did not comment beyond that on the criticism voiced.
Speculations about war mission
Snowden’s lawyer, commenting on the granting of Russian citizenship, made reference to the war in Ukraine in response to a question, informing that Snowden was not affected by the mobilization in Russia. Since he has not worked in the Russian military so far, he does not fall into the group of people now called up as reservists who are to be forced into combat duty in Ukraine.