Edward Snowden applied for temporary asylum in Russia yesterday after three weeks holed up at a Moscow airport trying to avoid prosecution in the US on espionage charges.
The former intelligence contractor is seeking refuge in Latin America after leaking details of US government surveillance programmes.
But he has not risked taking any flight that might be intercepted by the US since flying in from Hong Kong on June 23.
"He reached the conclusion that he needs to write an application for temporary asylum (in Russia), and this procedure has just been done," said Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer who met the whistle-blower on Friday along with human rights activists. "For now he is not going to go anywhere. For now he plans to stay in Russia," he said, adding that if Snowden were granted temporary asylum, he should have the same rights as other citizens and be free to work and travel in Russia.
The asylum application could end his time in limbo but risks deepening tension between the US and Russia, which has refused to expel him to his homeland for prosecution.
The head of Russia's Federal Migration Service confirmed the agency had received Snowden's application.
Snowden, 30, is trapped in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, an area between the runway and passport control which Russia regards as neutral territory.
He said on Friday he would seek refuge in Russia only until he can travel to one of the three Latin American countries ready to give him political asylum - Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
He said the US and its allies were preventing him from reaching those countries.
Washington has revoked Snowden's passport and urged other nations not to help him reach an asylum destination.
Kucherena said he expected a decision on Snowden's asylum request "soon", though the Federal Migration Service has up to three months to decide on the application.
The process for seeking temporary asylum is different from that for political asylum, which Kucherena said would require a decree from Vladimir Putin.
The president has rejected repeated US calls to send Snowden to America, but has said he does not want the fugitive to harm already strained relations with Washington.
Snowden is useful as a propaganda tool for Putin, who accuses the US government of preaching about rights and freedoms it does not uphold at home.
But Putin has invited Barack Obama for a summit in Moscow in September and both countries have signalled they want to improve ties.
Putin said on Monday he hoped Snowden would leave as soon as he could, but left the door open for granting him asylum, saying there were signs the fugitive was moving towards meeting the conditions he has set.
"We have a certain relationship with the US, and we don't want you with your political activities damaging our relationship with the US," Putin said,
"Judging by the latest statements, he is changing his position," Putin said. "But the situation has not yet become clear."
In an address to students, Putin jokingly described Snowden as an unwanted Christmas present.
"They [the US] themselves scared all other countries. No one wants to take him, and in this way they themselves, in fact, blocked him on our territory. Such a present for us for Christmas," he said.
Temporary asylum can be granted for up to a year, with the possibility of extension.