Snowden Reads Crime and Punishment as Stay in Moscow Airport Lengthens

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Edward Snowden meets with human-rights-organization representatives, Russian lawyers and the Russian President's human-rights commissioner at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow on July 12, 2013

On Wednesday afternoon, a pack of reporters gathered to meet Edward Snowden outside the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where the American whistle-blower, on the run from U.S. justice, has been stranded for a month. According to airport officials cited in the Russian media, Snowden was due to receive documents from Russian authorities on Wednesday that would finally allow him to leave the airport and enter Russia as a temporary asylum seeker. But it was a false alarm. Upon arriving at the airport, Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, had no documents to deliver. Instead he brought a few clean shirts for Snowden, a new pair of pants and a copy of the Russian novel Crime and Punishment.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Kucherena, who has been helping Snowden with his request for Russian asylum, said the former CIA and National Security Agency employee welcomed his lawyer with a Russian greeting — “Privet!” Kucherena explained that Snowden, who is wanted in the U.S. for leaking the secrets of American intelligence agencies, has been studying Russian to prepare for a long stay. “As of today, the final country of destination for him is Russia,” Kucherena said in a live interview with Russian state news channel Rossiya 24.

That seemed to mark a shift away from Snowden’s previous plans, which he expressed to Russian lawyers and rights activists during a meeting in the airport transit zone on June 12. Three of them told TIME after that meeting that Snowden only planned to seek temporary asylum in Russia, from which he would soon travel onward to one of several Latin American countries that have offered him permanent asylum. “Russia is a temporary solution for him,” Tanya Lokshina, the Russian project director for Human Rights Watch, said in recounting Snowden’s remarks that day.

But the comments from Snowden’s lawyer on Wednesday indicated that the former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency may seek a longer stay in Russia than expected. “So far he intends to stay here. He intends to study Russian culture. He intends to study the Russian language,” Kucherena told Rossiya 24 outside the airport. “He is of course interested in seeing Russia. He asked me, ‘Am I free to travel?’ And I said, ‘Please, of course this is possible, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok’” — referring to Russia’s westernmost and easternmost cities.

As for why Snowden has not yet been allowed to enter Russia officially, Kucherena said the asylum process has been held up by red tape. Snowden, whose U.S. passport was annulled in June, leaving him without a valid travel document, is waiting to receive temporary identification papers from the Russian Federal Migration Service. These would allow him to pass border control without a passport and remain in Russia while the migration service makes a decision on his request for asylum — a process that could take up to three months.

“This question of course takes time,” said Kucherena. “There are procedures, and the immigration service is working on it.” He added that the temporary documents, which would allow Snowden to enter Russia while he awaits a final decision on his asylum request, should be ready in the coming days. In the meantime, the Russian classics Kucherena delivered on Wednesday should keep Snowden busy. Along with Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the lawyer brought along a volume of short stories by Anton Chekhov. In parting, Kucherena said Snowden showed off some more of his Russian skills. “‘Bye-bye,’” he recalled the whistle-blower saying in Russian. “‘I’ll call you.’”