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Edward Snowden's life in limbo

Having spent 16 days in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport's transit area till now, Edward Snowden has earned himself a new name - the 'transit' man. Take a look at how the whistleblower is managing to stay there, this long. Vishakha Saxena writes. Snowden accepts Venezuela asylum offer

world Updated: Jul 09, 2013 20:42 IST
Vishakha Saxena
Vishakha Saxena
Edward snowden,whistleblower,NSA leaker

Ever since he spilled US' spying secrets, the former NSA contracter Edward Snowden has been referred to in many ways - NSA leaker, traitor, whistleblower, spy, so on and so forth.

Over time however, Snowden has earned himself another name - the 'transit' man.

On June 23, two days after the US government asked Hong Kong's authorities to arrest Snowden, he travelled to Russia taking a lot of people by surprise. And that very day the US revoked his passport.

With his passport being rendered invalid, Snowden has since been living in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport's transit area. He can't travel to another country unless he receives the all important asylum.

The deal with transit areas is that these are neutral territories. Something that's proving to be America's nemesis right now.

But even then, Snowden can't stay in limbo forever.

That brings us to the million dollar question - how is Edward Snoden managing to stay in limbo for this long?

For starters, the fact that he managed to keep his whereabouts an absolute mystery after landing in Russia worked well for Snowden.

For days he played hide and seek with the media and covered his tracks skillfuly. Booking seats on a flight to Havana and ditching a number of hopeful journalists was one such example.

The fact the he was holed up in the airport's transit area was made public by the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin two days later. While doing so, he also made it clear to the US that 'Russia doesn't extradite anyone'.

He also placed a condition in front of Snowden while offering him asylum - no more leaks.

If one looks closely, it gave Russia a chance to steer clear of Snowden and Snowden a chance to weigh his options in terms of other countries who would be willing to give him asylum.

Currently, three countries - Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua - have offered asylum to Snowden. And two other Latin American countries Ecuador and Cuba have offered help and support.

We got Snowden asylum letter: Venezuela president

Bolivia willing to give Snowden asylum 'if he asks'

Venezuela, Nicaragua offer asylum to Snowden

These options are pretty bankable too given that the relations between the US and Latin America are not exactly the friendly kind.

In its article 'Latin America sees US diverting Morales' plane as Yankee imperialism' The Guardian reported:

"Such an act would have stirred anger if it had been aimed at any president, but in Latin America, it has a special resonance. Conflict with the United States is one of the overwhelming facts of Latin American history. Morales is one of several regional leaders who have won elections by promising to pull their countries out of Washington's orbit."

US whistleblower Snowden seeks asylum in India, 20 other countries: WikiLeaks

Secondly, Snowden's decision of flying to Russia was a smart one in itself.

Most countries don't have a transit area with their airports. If a passenger flies in with improper paperwork, they are made to fly back. In other cases where the passenger has a connecting flight to catch, they have to almost immediately process through Customs.

In that scenario, the fact that Russia, a country with a past and present of not-such-great relations with the US, has airports with transit facility worked out pretty well for Snowden.

In an article titled 'With Snowden believed to be stuck at a Moscow airport, mysteries about his case abound' The Washington Post reported:

"President Vladimir Putin relishes defying the United States, accusing Washington of trying to dominate global affairs. When Snowden was still in hiding in Hong Kong, Putin’s spokesman said Russia would consider granting him asylum if he asked for it.Snowden could have seen Russia as a safe haven that would not send him to the U.S. under any circumstances. Putin so far has met his expectations, bluntly rejecting Washington’s expulsion request."

Snowden drops Russia asylum request, in transit area: Kremlin

However, in its article Seeking Snowden in SheremetyevoThe Washington Post has a different opinion:

"What doesn’t seem normal to many is why Snowden decided to go to Ecuador, his original destination, through Russia. Once he arrived here, with his U.S. passport revoked, Ecuador has grown less enthusiastic. Russia says he can go anywhere he likes — he just needs a destination and authorized travel documents. So why doesn’t he go? Or show his face?"

Russia official: Venezuela last chance for Snowden

Next is the fact that with the transit area being a neutral territory the rules applicable to anyone living there become somewhat ambiguous.

According to Sheremetyevo Airport's website, while waiting for a connecting flight, foreign citizens are allowed to stay in the airport for 24 hours with no Russian visa issued. All they need is a ticket from the airlines for the next flight.

Then, it goes on to say that if the flight change requires a stay longer than 24 hours, 'foreign transit passengers' can get a Russian Federation transit visa directly in the airport, provided the ticket of the connecting flight and proper identification documents are submitted.

Somewhere between the transit area, his claims of being 'a man without a country' and Putin's no extradition stance, Snowden found himself a safe haven.

In an article titled 'Is Edward Snowden stateless and where can he go?' The Guardian reported:

"States normally retain full control over airside transit areas. Russia appears to be treating Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport, where Snowden is believed to be hiding, as beyond its control."

Though some would like to think that there would be an expiry date on his stay there, it might not exactly be true.

One Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who lived in Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport's Terminal One for almost 18 years, is one such example.

The big issue in front of Snowden now is how he plans to get out of Moscow.

Last week, a plane carrying Bolivia President Evo Morales was prevented from refueling in Portugal and instead re-routed to Austria en route home due to fears of Snowden being on board.

Bolivia demands answers from Europe in plane spat over Snowden

What can happen is that Snowden flies from Russia to Latin America with Cuba being the key transit point, where the plane will stop to refuel.

And that option too doesn't seem out of the whistleblower's reach with Cuban leader Raul Castro coming out in support of Snowden.

Snowden fate in balance as Cuba backs aslyum bid

With time in hand and options to consider, the picture for the 'country-less' transit man doesn't look all that ugly, after all.

Read More:

Chronology of events in US web snooping case

'Snowden blames Obama for trying to block his efforts to find asylum'

First Published: Jul 09, 2013 16:53 IST