Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly granted citizenship to United States National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, who had been residing in the country since 2013.
According to a Monday report from Reuters, Putin signed a decree effectively changing Snowden’s legal status in Russia from permanent resident to citizen. The NSA whistleblower has been in exile from the United States following his leak of thousands of classified documents to journalists but has continued to speak on issues such a national security in addition to cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.
While Putin has taken legislative action in Russia that seems to curtail the use of crypto — including banning the use of digital assets as payments in a July law — Snowden has frequently spoken on the benefits of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC). The whistleblower and now Russian citizen revealed in 2019 that he used BTC to pay for the servers from which he released the infamous documents of the NSA leak, and said in April he played a pivotal role in creating the privacy token Zcash (ZEC).
“Snowden is not a traitor,” said Putin in a 2017 interview with film director Oliver Stone. “He did not betray the interests of his country, nor did he transfer any information to any other country that would damage his own people. [...] He shouldn’t have [leaked NSA secrets]. My view is that what he did was wrong.”
Snowden would potentially face charges related to espionage from the Department of Justice if he were to return to the United States. It was unclear at the time of publication what led President Putin to grant Snowden citizenship, but the U.S. and Russia have faced volatile diplomatic relations following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other nations. In contrast to Putin — whom many have criticized as having taken a more autocratic role in leading Russia — Snowden has often spoken on the dangers of government overreach and the need for oversight.
“I don’t care if you’re in the United States, I don’t care if you’re in Germany, and I don’t care if you’re in Russia, I don’t care if you’re in China — it is a global trend where we see government doing more,” said Snowden during a DeData Salon fireside chat on Sept. 23. “They have greater capability because of technology acting as a magnifier of preexisting power. It allows them to increase their leverage, right? They’re leveraging their influence to try to sort of act and compete not just within their own borders but globally and now we have those levers starting to press on each other, and it’s causing sort of problems and conflicts all over the world.”
Snowden’s reported Russian citizenship status would not necessarily preclude the whistleblower from ever returning to the United States. A sitting U.S. president has the constitutional authority to grant reprieves and pardons for “offenses” against the country, which would likely include federal espionage charges. However, despite calls from many civil liberties advocacy groups, the two previous presidential administrations have not pardoned Snowden, nor has current President Joe Biden suggested that he will during his term.