When Anatoly Kucherena, Russian senator and Edward Snowden's self-appointed lawyer, walked into the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport where his client had spent 39 days, and told the NSA leaker that the Russian government had finally granted him asylum for one year, Snowden couldn't believe his ears.
"At first, he seemed not to fully understand it, internally," Kucherena told me. "Because he had been waiting for it for so long, he had been so worried. He said, 'It can't be!' That he wouldn't believe it 'til he saw the documents. Then, of course, he was happy."
Then Snowden and his WikiLeaks legal advisor Sarah Harrison (who doesn't seem to be a lawyer) left the airport, got into a regular gray taxi, and disappeared into the streets of Moscow. Kucherena declined repeatedly to say where Snowden went, saying, "There is concern for his safety."
Kucherena, a hulk of a man with the broad face and straw hair of a Scythian peasant, has told Russian television that his client is "emotionally exhausted" and that what lies ahead, first and foremost, is "a period of adaptation." "The conditions in which he lived [at the airport] was basically house arrest," he said. "Not only are you not living in a home setting, but imagine hearing the intercom announcements all day, which say, 'Dear passengers, the flight from New York has landed.' The flight from Washington. The flight from Rome. You hear this constantly. Just imagine it."
The stay at the Sheremetyevo transit hotel was expensive, and Snowden paid for it with his own savings; now, those seem to have run out. "He had some of his own money," Kucherena explained to me. "But his father is coming [to Moscow] soon, his American lawyer is coming. He won't be left to face his fate alone." He added, "He has American friends here. So everything will be okay."
It is unclear who those "American friends" are, and how Snowden, who has not had visitors for 39 days, and has never been to Moscow, made them. What we do know is that Moscow is still crawling with American spooks—as we learned from the CIA agent nabbed in Moscow while wearing an obscene blond wig—so maybe those are his American friends in Moscow. Likely, though, Snowden will live in an apartment that is bugged to the hilt, as any of my American (and British) friends in Moscow can tell you. They'd also likely tell you about how the Russian security services will regularly pay visits to your apartment, usually when you're not there, and leave overt "we were here" clues behind: missing rugs, opened emails, a ladder in the bedroom, a gun on your welcome mat. It may not be as excruciating as intercom announcements from a world now closed to you, but it's a close second, believe me.
Last week, Kucherena announced that Snowden was planning on settling in Russia and looking for work. Today, he clarified what he meant.
"I have to say he's getting a lot of job offers coming in," Kucherena said. "Offers from journalists to work together, and the like. I've passed them on to him, he'll make the decision himself." One place that had made an offer, Kucherena added, was VKontakte, Russia's Facebook rip-off, which also gives users access to a massive trove of pirated music, TV shows, and movies. Pavel Durov, VKontakte's founder, has been fighting off official pressure—prosecutorial summons, searches—in part because the internet wilds of VKontakte are one of the last bastions of freedom in Russia, and the opposition does a lot of its organizing through VKontakte, which is Russia's largest social network. In the last year or so, the government wanted to muscle in, and get a share of the company in order to exercise some control over it. So far, Durov has fought them off effectively, including today's court decision not to charge VKontakte under a new anti-piracy law. How's that for irony?
Kucherena also told Russia Today about some other new friends calling and asking for Snowden: Russian girls. Or, as Kucherena put it, "such [sexy? beautiful? pliant?] Russian girls." "He told me, ‘Anatoly, I still miss my girlfriend.’”
Looks like Snowden is about to discover that whole new world of being a male expat in Russia.