Russia has given Edward Snowden, the man who leaked information on secret National Security Agency surveillance programs, the travel documents needed to legally leave Moscow's airport and enter the country, according to multiple reports.
The move is likely to increase tensions between the Moscow and Washington, which has pressed for Snowden to be returned to the United States where he faces espionage charges.
Reports on Wednesday citing Russian state news service RIA Novosti said that Snowden was free to now leave the transit area.
A lawyer representing Snowden, Anatoly Kucherena, told Russia Today earlier on Wednesday that his client intended to settle and work permanently in Russia.
“He’s planning to arrange his life here. He plans to get a job. And, I think, that all his further decisions will be made considering the situation he found himself in,” Kucherena said.
Obama administration officials had pressed Russia to deny Snowden refuge after he applied for temporary asylum there.
The White House said President Obama placed a personal call to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month to discuss Snowden’s case.
Putin suggested that Snowden could stay in Russia provided he agreed to no longer disclose information that could harm the U.S., but also said bilateral ties between the two countries were more important than the dispute over the leaker’s fate.
Snowden’s lawyer has said that he would be willing to abide by those restrictions
Right after the news broke, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), speaking on Michigan radio station WTKG 1230, said he didn’t believe Snowden had been at Moscow's airport and had been cooperating with Russian authorities all along.
"The Russians are not fully cooperative on this. And by the way, he wasn't really at the airport," Rogers said in response to news Snowden had been granted travel documents. "I don't think anybody buys that the Russians kept him in a hole in the airport. Think about how valuable he is and he didn't give them all of it?
“I think he gave enough to be certainly damaging to the intelligence operations to the United States against our adversaries but he didn't give it all and I think they were trying to co-opt him into working for them in Russia,” Rogers added. “This tells me two things: they're either negotiating or trying to play hardball and saying listen 'we've got everything we're trying to get out of you. Now be someone else's problem.' It'll be interesting to determine which that is."