Snowden applies for temporary asylum in Russia

(CNN) -- American intelligence-leaker Edward Snowden applied for temporary asylum in Russia on Tuesday, a move that might soon allow him to leave Moscow's international airport while the request is considered, a Russian lawyer who helped him with the request told CNN.

If the request is granted, Snowden would be able to live in Russia -- and even travel abroad -- for at least a year, lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said.

And, despite previous indications that Snowden eventually wanted refuge in Latin America, Kucherena indicated Tuesday that Snowden might take his time in Russia.

"As far as I know, he's planning to stay in Russia to learn Russian culture, Russian language and (to) live here," Kucherena said.

Kucherena told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that Snowden "intends to stay in Russia for now."

"I asked him (what his plans were), he doesn't plan to go anywhere just yet," Kucherena said, according to RIA Novosti.

This is the latest in a series of steps that Snowden has made in an attempt to establish a life outside the United States, where he faces espionage charges after publicly admitting that he released documents to the media that exposed U.S. mass surveillance programs.

Kucherena said Snowden wrote the asylum request Tuesday at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, where he has been holed up for the past three weeks because the United States revoked his passport.

Russia's Federal Migration Service could take up to three months to consider Snowden's request, said Kucherena, a lawyer with a Kremlin advisory body.

Within a few days, Snowden should receive a certificate showing that the request is under consideration, and that certificate will allow him to legally leave the airport's transit area, Kucherena said.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, left Hawaii for Hong Kong this year and leaked NSA documents to the media, sparking worldwide controversy over U.S. surveillance programs.

After he publicly identified himself as the leaker last month, he departed Hong Kong for Russia, where he is believed to have been staying in a transit area of the Moscow airport.

Snowden's application may be a shift in his position. About two weeks ago, he reportedly withdrew a request for asylum in Russia after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Snowden would need to "stop his work aimed at harming our American partners" if he wanted to stay in the country.

But on Friday, in a meeting with human rights activists and lawyers, Snowden reportedly said he wanted temporary asylum in Russia while awaiting safe transit to Latin America, and added that he will not harm the United States in the future.

The presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia have said their countries would give him asylum, and Nicaragua's president said he would offer it "if circumstances permit." But he would need the legal ability to travel there -- something that temporary asylum in Russia could give him.

Over the weekend, a journalist who first published the leaked documents said that Snowden has more damaging information that could be a "nightmare" for the U.S. government.

Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian told an Argentine newspaper, La Nacion, that releasing more information to hurt the United States is not Snowden's goal. However, he said, Snowden has a "large number" of documents about software people use "without consciously agreeing to surrender their rights to privacy."

Snowden has given copies of the papers to several people, Greenwald told the paper, according to an English translation.

"The U.S. government should be on their knees every day praying that nothing happens to Snowden, because if something happens, all information will be revealed, and that would be their worst nightmare," he said.