A handwritten note purportedly from Edward Snowdon asking President Vladimir Putin for asylum in Russia has been revealed by his lawyer, who said he expected the NSA whisteblower to leave the airport within days.
The fugitive former security analyst, who revealed details of a sweeping and hugely controversial NSA surveillance programme called Prism, has said remaining in Russia is his only guarantee of safety, because of fears that the US and EU countries will not allow him to fly through their airspace.
The Russian Migration Service confirmed it had Snowden’s application for temporary asylum, which is what the whistleblower told human rights activists last week that he intended to do, with no options to reach his preferred end destination of Latin America.
It can take authorities up to three months to consider his request, during which he can remain in the airport or go to a refugee centre.
Russia Today, a state-owned broadcaster, tweeted a picture of Snowden's allegedly hand-written request, provided by lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, one of those invited to meet Snowden last week.
Because Snowden cannot leave the transit area of Sheremetyevo [airport], he completed all necessary forms, wrote a request and gave it to a Russian Federal Migration Service employee invited there for that purpose," Kucherena told Russia news agency Interfax.
It was handed over on late Tuesday morning, the lawyer said.
"I explained all the niceties of the procedure and legal requirements. Due to the fact that Snowden can not leave the transit area, it was decided that a Federal Migration Service employee would arrive there, to whom the request for temporary asylum could be given."
Despite the warning that the process can take three months, Snowden's lawyer said he believed it will take less.
"The granting of temporary asylum to him will take no longer than one week. I think he will be able to leave Sheremetyevo's transit zone within the next few days," Kucherena said.
Snowden had a choice to either request political or temporary asylum in Russia, Kucherena told RT. The whistleblower chose the latter because it entails a shorter review time and “he is tired of living in the airport’s transit zone.”
The Head of the Public Chamber of FMS Vladimir Volokh told Interfax: "Right now we are beginning the first stage – the definition of [Snowden’s] legal status.
"Snowden would have to be in the transit area or FMS can transfer him to the temporary accommodation for refugees or internally displaced persons.”
President Putin has previously said that Snowden could apply for asylum if he agreed to "stop harming our American partners". This, in effect, meant Snowden could not longer leak apparent details of the vast scale of surveillance of citizens through companies like Facebook and Google, while he remains in Russia.
Asked during a visit to the eastern Siberian town of Chita whether the affair would cast a shadow over a US-Russia summit due in September, Putin told reporters: "Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are far more important than squabbles about the activities of the secret services."
On Tuesday, Putin sarcastically labelled Snowden "such a present to us. Merry Christmas."
He was addressing a group of students on a visit to the Gulf of Finland, where he was pictured descending underwater in a tank.
"He arrived on our territory without an invitation," said Putin. "He didn't fly to us; he flew in transit to other countries. But our American partners, in fact, blocked him from flying further.
"They themselves scared all other countries; no one wants to take him, and in this way they themselves, in fact, blocked him on our territory."