The announcement was made in Moscow by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Lavrov, flanked by Snowden, cited the 33-year-old’s heroic work in bringing cyber espionage to the public’s attention, while expressing hope that Snowden could ease tensions over Russia’s alleged cyber interference in the U.S. election and its ties to the Trump administration.
Lavrov and Snowden were joined by U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft, who presented Snowden with a token of thanks from the United States: a full and unconditional pardon from the U.S. Justice Department.
“I look forward to investigating the charges of a Russian cyber-hack of the U.S.,” a grinning Snowden told reporters. “I’ve already stolen.. I mean, I look forward to seeing all the classified evidence the NSA may have gathered.”
Though American by birth, Snowden has lived in Russia since 2013 after having what he called “creative differences” with his former employers. He was awarded Russian citizenship last year by Russian president Vladimir Putin for what Putin called, “outstanding and irreplaceable services provided to the Motherland.”
Russia’s announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by U.S. President Donald Trump, who said Snowden had been highly recommended by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, as well as his good friend Julian Assange.
Trump added that Snowden would nicely complement Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who like Snowden is a recipient of both Russia’s Order of Friendship and a small pension by the Russian FSB.
He added that as a goodwill gesture the U.S. was strongly considering appointing Chelsea Manning as his next ambassador to Russia, in the event her planned confirmation as Deputy CIA Director falls through.
Speaking in a phone interview, Justice Department spokesperson Emily Pierce provided no statement, but reporters could hear audible crying in the background, followed by what sounded like breaking furniture.