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NSA leaker Edward Snowden awaits papers to enter Russia

Updated 2:14 PM
A passenger waits for his flight at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport June 26, 2013. (Photo by Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters)
A passenger waits for his flight at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport June 26, 2013.

Updated 2:14 PM

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor charged with leaking documents on U.S. surveillance programs, is awaiting papers that will allow him to leave the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremyetovo airport for the first time since  June 23, according to a statement by his lawyer.

Russia's RIA Novosti news agency quoted a law enforcement source as saying that the documents, issued Wednesday, confirm Snowden's asylum request is under consideration by Russia's Federal Immigration Service. Such papers will permit him to enter the country.

Snowden's lawyer told NBC News Wednesday that the 30-year-old planned to learn Russian culture and had been handed a copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment to keep himself busy.

The former contractor would be living in a "separate zone," according to his lawyers.

The U.S. has urged Russia and other nations that have indicated a willingness to offer Snowden asylum, including Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, to send Snowden home to be prosecuted. He faces criminal charges under the U.S. Espionage Act. No extradition treaty exists between the two countries.

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on July 12, according to a statement by the White House that did not include details of the conversation.

"We have a history of effective law enforcement cooperation with Russia," White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier that day. "Through those channels and through the normal procedures, we believe Mr. Snowden ought to be expelled from Russia."

Putin said last week that any effort by Snowden to harm U.S.- Russia relations would be "unacceptable."

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that any move by Snowden out of the Moscow airport would be "deeply disappointing." Just before 2:00 PM Eastern, Psaki told reporters that the U.S. continues to seek an update on Snowden's status, but "we understand he is in the transit lounge."

"Russia can still do the right thing and facilitate his return," Psaki told reporters. She said Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov late Wednesday morning and "expressed our belief that Mr. Snowden needs to be returned to the U.S., where he will face a fair trial."