After living in a Moscow airport since June, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden began his temporary asylum Thursday by staying with Americans in the Russian capital whom he met online, his attorney said.
"He made a lot of friends here -- and great for him that those Americans who live here and found about his situation and were in touch with him," his Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said.
Sought by American authorities, Snowden is putting high emphasis on his security now that he can roam freely in Russia, according to his lawyer.
"He's concerned about life and health because he believes that people from the American intelligence service are chasing him," Kucherena said. "This is a superpower. And the statements made by the State Department recently are threatening to him."
Russia's awarding temporary asylum to Snowden -- he can legally stay in Russia for one year, his lawyer said -- has infuriated U.S. officials, so much so that they are reconsidering a planned meeting between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin next month in Moscow before a G-20 gathering in St. Petersburg, Russia.
"We are evaluating the utility of a summit," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
The U.S. was not given a heads-up about Russia's decision, according to spokesmen from the White House and State Department.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has previously discussed the United States' feelings on Snowden and reiterated those views Thursday.
In an interview with state-run Russia 24, Kucherena said that Russia "didn't have a choice" in granting his client asylum.
"It was a humane decision because Edward couldn't come and buy himself tickets to Havana or any other countries since he had no passport," the attorney told the news outlet. "So Russia behaved very honest in this situation."
The lawyer added: "It's not right to implement any sanctions" against Russia.
A former U.S. government contract employee, Snowden leaked to the media that the NSA had secretly collected and stored millions of phone records from accounts in the United States. The agency also collected information from U.S. companies on the Internet activity of overseas residents, he said.
This high-profile leak thrust Snowden to the center of the debate about government surveillance, privacy and leaking for almost two months, during which he's been in limbo at Moscow's airport.
In addition to categorizing White House reaction as "extremely disappointed," Carney said Thursday that Snowden faces three felony charges for leaking classified information.
Snowden has said he is afraid he would not get a fair trial if he came back to the United States.
If he stays in Russia, he might have a job waiting for him. Pavel Durov, the founder of the social website V Kontakte, offered Snowden a job as a developer in his company's St. Petersburg office.
"I believe Edward would be interested in working on protecting personal data of millions of users," Durov wrote, who cheered Snowden for having "exposed the crimes" of the U.S. government.
WikiLeaks, the secrets-busting site that has put itself firmly behind Snowden -- as well as another infamous leaker, recently convicted Bradley Manning -- seemed thrilled about his being granted temporary asylum.
Since he was in Hong Kong thrown now, the group has had one of its officials with Snowden.
"We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden. We have won the battle -- now the war," WikiLeaks said on Twitter.
A Wikileaks statement also quotes Snowden thanking Russia his asylum certificate, remarks CNN cannot authenticate.
"Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning," the quote reads.
U.S. expecting move?
The U.S. and Russia are still on track to hold a top level meeting in Washington next week in preparation for G-20 summit. Obama is expected to meet in D.C. with Putin, according to a U.S. official.
The official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the information, said that the White House could still decide to change the date of the Washington meeting, or even decide to not hold the meeting. The official emphasized that no decision had been made as of midday Thursday.