President Vladimir Putin on Monday granted Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, who exposed massive surveillance by the US National Security Agency on Americans and then sought refuge in Russia.
A presidential decree published Monday included Snowden on a list of newly-minted Russian citizens, at a time when relations between Washington and Moscow are at historic lows over the conflict in Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told news agencies that Snowden had received Russian citizenship as a result of his own request, made in 2020 to make it easier for his American wife Lindsay Mills to travel back and forth.
"After years of separation from our parents, my wife and I have no desire to be separated from our SONS," Snowden wrote on Twitter.
"After two years of waiting and nearly ten years of exile, a little stability will make a difference for my family," he said.
The former American intelligence contractor, 39, leaked secret documents to media outlets in 2013 revealing that the NSA was collecting massive amounts of communications metadata and other information on US citizens, in violation of their constitutional right to privacy.
The expose of the NSA's secret spying program led to laws and regulations forbidding that activity.
After revealing those secrets, Snowden sought refuge in Russia. He married longtime girlfriend Mills in Moscow in 2017.
Three years later they had a son, and Snowden said he would seek Russian citizenship to make it easier for his family to be together, especially given the travel restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But he said he wanted to keep his US nationality.
"Lindsay and I will remain Americans, raising our son with all the values of the America we love -- including the freedom to speak his mind. And I look forward to the day I can return to the States, so the whole family can be reunited," he said at the time.
The couple had a second son earlier this year.
Snowden's lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that Mills would also now apply for Russian citizenship.
- Dual US-Russian citizen -
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that Snowden, who has been charged with multiple felonies in US court, retains his American citizenship.
"I'm not aware of any change in his citizenship status," Price said.
"The only thing that has changed is that as a result of his Russian citizenship, apparently now he may well be conscripted to fight in the reckless war" in Ukraine, he said.
Putin last week announced a mobilisation of 300,000 Russian reservists to contribute to the Russian army's fight in Ukraine.
However, Kucherena said that Snowden would not be called up to serve given he had no prior experience in the Russian army.
The White House did not comment directly on Snowden's Russian citizenship.
"Since I believe there have been criminal charges brought against him, we would point you to the Department of Justice for any specifics on this," said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
After he sought refuge in Russia, the US Justice Department filed a criminal complaint with three felony charges against Snowden: theft of government property, disclosing crucial US defense information, and providing classified materials to unauthorized persons.
"Mr Snowden should return to the United States where he should face justice as any other American citizen would," said Price.