MOSCOW – Former CIA contractor and self-declared leaker Edward Snowden has entered Russia after authorities granted him temporary asylum, his lawyer said Thursday.
Snowden, who revealed details of the NSA’s wide-ranging spying activities targeting data and phone communication, is believed to have been stranded in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport since June 23, when he arrived on a flight from Hong Kong.
Now that he’s a relatively free man in Russia – what should he do?
Should he go on a he-man adventure with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin? Look for a spot to safely lay his hat? Take in the sights of Moscow? Or go for a little taste of Americana? Here are some suggestions.
The Venezuelan embassy could be a good first stop. The South American country has already accepted his asylum request, and repeating the somewhat similar fate of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, who is holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Snowden could take residence with the Venezuelans.
If the Embassy allows an open-door policy for Snowden, he will be in the lucky position to be in a prime Moscow location, and could go exploring. The famous Tsvetnoi Bulvar Circus, the relaxing Hermitage Gardens, and a nice Georgian restaurant, Sahli, are all a stone-throw's away.
From the Venezuelan Embassy, it’s only a 15 minute walk to the Kremlin, the seat of Russian power. Snowden could try to blend in with the other tourists, by sticking a camera in front of his face, disguising himself as he snaps away in Red Square, visits the picturesque St. Basil’s Cathedral, or walks inside Lenin’s Mausoleum.
And if he still has any money left after his airport expenses, he could go buy some luxury goods at the famous GUM department store. It sells delicious and expensive deli treats - smoked fish, caviar, truffles...you name it and they probably have it, as well as perfume, and high-end fashion clothing. But he could also opt for a traditional Russian ice-cream cone – a more affordable option.
On the way to the Kremlin, he could stop by the Gulag Museum on Petrovka Street, and learn about the dark Soviet history of political purges during Stalin’s reign. It’s a modest museum, with limited funding, but it has a dedicated staff who could take him through the exhibits, explaining the harsh conditions Russians who fell afoul of the authorities experienced over the years.
If Snowden is a lover of culture, or if he is curious to see where the leaders of the countries he has appealed to for asylum recently met, he can visit the New Opera.
Putin, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad all went to the opera in early July, following the Gas Exporting Country’s forum, hosted in Moscow. Shortly afterwards, Morales’ plane was grounded in Vienna, after fears were raised that Snowden might be onboard. The action was met with condemnation from Latin countries.
Perhaps Snowden, who has being stuck in international seclusion for almost a month at the airport, will want to hit the town and check out Moscow’s vibrant café culture and nightlife.
If he is interested in getting support from the Russian opposition, or even to make new friends, he could head down to the Jean Jacques Café on Nikitsky Boulevard, not far from the Kremlin. A croque madame and a bottle of wine are the staple fare here.
But warning! As the smoke filled party continues throughout the night, he may well be spotted by the numerous journalists, who pop in and out of the joint, after work. It may be convenient to hold a press conference then and there, but if he is feeling the need for his privacy, it may be best to avoid it altogether.
Or Snowden could put on a baseball cap, take off his glasses, and try to look like a typical American. He could head on down to the Starlight Diner by the Mayakovsky Square, famed for its opposition demonstrations, held on the 31st of each month, for a hamburger and fries, and he’d probably feel right at home.
On the opposite side of the street is the famous Hotel Peking. He could go up to the Time Out Bar on the 13th floor and enjoy the sprawling city view. And he could find plenty of expats there who speak English and know how to party.
Welcome to Moscow, Ed!