Snowden's Presence A 'Comfortable' Problem For Russia

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is close to leaving the transit lounge of the Moscow airport after authorities issued paperwork that would allow him into Russia, his lawyer says. But Snowden hasn't actually received the certificate and must remain in place for the time being. But the news caused a flurry of interest with TV cameras trained on airport exits.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Russia today, there was speculation that Edward Snowden might leave the transit area of a Moscow airport. He's been stuck there for the past month.

Earlier today, Russian media were reporting that Snowden would be receiving travel documents that would allow him to officially set foot on Russian soil. As NPR's Corey Flintoff reports, those stories were premature, but they revealed that the fugitive situation is more complicated than it might seem.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Snowden has been stuck in the diplomatic no man's land of the Sheremetyevo Airport transit area while U.S. officials demand his extradition for revealing secrets about U.S. surveillance programs.

Snowden's Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, seemed to reinforce the rumor that his client might be about to leave the airport when he showed up carrying a large bag. But Kucherena emerged a short time later to tell reporters that Snowden was going to stay put for the time being.

ANATOLY KUCHERENA: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: He said the necessary paperwork wasn't ready, but that the matter should be resolved within the coming days. Analysts aren't so sure about that. Sergey Markov is vice-rector of the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics. He's a strong supporter of President Putin, and he says Snowden's presence is a problem for everyone.

SERGEY MARKOV: For United States and European Union, it's very uncomfortable problem. But for Russia, it's more comfortable problem.

FLINTOFF: Markov calls it a comfortable problem for Russia because, in his words, it proves that Russia is not an enemy of freedom if people such as Snowden apply for asylum there.

Aside from the propaganda value of Snowden's application, though, Markov concedes that it's a diplomatic problem for Russia, which is about to host the G-20 summit of industrialized nations in September. President Obama had been scheduled to come to the summit and to make a side visit to Putin in Moscow. But some Russian officials fear that part of the trip could be in doubt because of U.S. displeasure over Snowden. Maria Lipman of the Moscow Carnegie Center says this leaves Putin in an embarrassing situation.

MARIA LIPMAN: In which he would want to get rid of Snowden, yet he would by no means be seen as somebody who facilitated - for the Americans - their desire to get Snowden.

FLINTOFF: In the meantime, Snowden may find himself stuck in limbo for a while longer while Putin decides what to do. Snowden's attorney, Kucherena, indicated as much when he told reporters that he brought his client something to pass the time, a copy of Dostoyevsky's novel "Crime and Punishment." Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

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