MOSCOW — Edward J. Snowden, the former American intelligence contractor whose 2013 leaks of top-secret documents set off a worldwide debate about government surveillance, is now a permanent resident of Russia.
Mr. Snowden, 37, has been living in exile in Moscow since 2013, when he fled to the Russian capital after giving journalists access to a trove of National Security Agency documents detailing the American intelligence service’s mass surveillance programs. On Thursday, the country’s immigration authorities granted Mr. Snowden permanent residency, his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, wrote on Facebook.
Mr. Kucherena posted a photograph of himself standing next to a smiling Mr. Snowden, in a dark red shirt and a black suit jacket, holding a blue, passport-style permanent residency document emblazoned with the Russian coat of arms.
“People ask me if Edward is planning on getting Russian citizenship,” Mr. Kucherena wrote. “For now, he has not told me this. He describes his end goal as being a return to the United States, but only if he is guaranteed a fair trial.”
There was no comment from Mr. Snowden himself on his newfound permanent residency, and Mr. Kucherena did not respond to an interview request.
President Trump said in August that he would “take a very good look at” a pardon for the former intelligence contractor. Mr. Snowden told the German newspaper Die Zeit last month that he was encouraged by Mr. Trump’s comments, even if no pardon was imminent.
“It’s a continued normalization of the conversation about this,” Mr. Snowden said, referring to a possible pardon in the United States. “Realistically, I think we are still early in the phase of that.”
Changes last year to Russia’s immigration law that have made it easier for foreigners to get permanent residency cleared the path for Mr. Snowden to stay in the country for as long as he wanted. Several prominent Western supporters of President Vladimir V. Putin — including the American actor Steven Seagal and the French actor Gérard Depardieu — have already gone further and received Russian citizenship.
But Mr. Snowden is a special case. He is both a living symbol of Mr. Putin’s relish in needling the United States and a hero to many who say he laid bare breathtaking abuse by American intelligence agencies of the power to monitor the online activity of people around the world.
In Moscow, Mr. Snowden has led both a mysterious and active lifestyle. He keeps his specific location and movements a secret, but chimes in on online privacy issues on his Twitter account, published a memoir last year and, before the pandemic, often appeared at technology conferences via video link. He has married his American girlfriend, learned Russian and describes Moscow as a “beautiful city.”
In the United States, intelligence officials and politicians from both parties have said Mr. Snowden was working with Russian intelligence agencies. Mr. Snowden has denied those accusations, and he has at times lobbed veiled criticism at Mr. Putin; after the poisoning of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny in August, Mr. Snowden on Twitter called it a possible “crime against the whole of Russia.”
“The sad reality is that even in the United States, targeted killings are happening frequently,” Mr. Snowden elaborated in the interview with Die Zeit. “It’s just the means that’s different.”
Mr. Snowden was referring to targeted killings of terrorism suspects around the world by American drones. Of Mr. Navalny’s case, Mr. Snowden said: “There needs to be an investigation, and anyone involved needs to go to jail.”
The pandemic delayed Mr. Snowden’s residency permit application, his lawyer said, and it appears to have made the exile’s life in Moscow even more cloistered than it already was. When Moscow was under lockdown in April and May, the city authorities required residents to obtain a digital permit for almost any trip outside. Mr. Snowden told Die Zeit he never once sought such a permit because he disagreed with the government’s brute-force approach to keeping people inside their homes.
“The politics of the place are as troubled as ever but the people are fundamentally good people,” Mr. Snowden said of Russia. “As I would say in many countries, it is never the people you have to worry about, it’s always the government.”
Mr. Kucherena, Mr. Snowden’s Russian lawyer, is also chairman of the Public Chamber of the Russian Interior Ministry, which plays an advisory role with the country’s top law-enforcement body. On Thursday, alongside his note on Facebook announcing Mr. Snowden’s permanent residency, Mr. Kucherena also posted a picture of a gift he had received from his client to commemorate the occasion.
It was a photograph of Mr. Snowden and Mr. Kucherena exiting the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo after Russia granted him asylum in August 2013. The photograph is captioned in Russian: “With thanks for the years of freedom.”