MOSCOW - Fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden on Thursday left the Moscow airport where he has been holed up for over a month, after being granted one year's asylum in Russia, his lawyer said.

Russia's shock decision to award Snowden asylum just two weeks after the application was made risks a diplomatic row with the United States, which had previously described such a prospect as "deeply disappointing".

"Snowden has left Sheremetyevo airport. He has just been given a certificate that he has been awarded temporary asylum in Russia for one year," his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told AFP. An airport spokeswoman for Sheremetyevo confirmed he had left within the last two hours. A source told the Interfax news agency he had now crossed the Russian border for the first time.

Kucherena said Snowden had left in a normal taxi on his own, in an apparent cloak-and-dagger operation that went unnoticed by the media who have tried to follow his every move for weeks.

The lawyer, who had held several meetings with Snowden and helped him make his asylum application on July 16, added his new place of residence would be kept secret for security reasons.

"His location is not being made public for security reasons since he is the most pursued man on the planet. He himself will decide where he will go," Kucherena said.

Snowden, 30, is wanted on felony charges by the United States after leaking details of vast US surveillance programmes, but Russia has refused to extradite him. Interviewed by Rossiya 24 television, Kucherena held up a scanned copy of Snowden's certificate granting him a year's temporary asylum in Russia.

"He has gone to a safe place. I hope you will be understanding about this information," he told the television.

"He may stay in a flat or in a hotel so since he is the most pursued man on Earth he today will be working on security questions." The name "Snowden Edward Joseph" appears in the asylum document shown on television next to the black and white photo of the bespectacled fugitive.

It was issued on July 31, valid until July 31 of 2014, and is complete with his fingerprint. Kucherna said that Snowden would eventually emerge into public view and give interviews to the press. But he said Snowden first required an "adaptation course" after so long in the transit zone. Snowden has been staying in the transit zone of the Sheremetyevo airport north of Moscow since he flew in from Hong Kong on June 23. Until now, he had never formally crossed the Russian border.

Meanwhile, a top US senator warned Thursday that Russia's decision to grant temporary asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden is a "setback" for Washington's ties with Moscow.

Meanwhile, The founder of Russia’s most popular social network VKontakte on Thursday offered a job to Edward Snowden, after the US intelligence leaker left a Moscow airport with his new asylum papers.

“Today Edward Snowden, the man who has exposed the crimes of American security services against the world’s citizens, received temporary asylum in Russia,” Pavel Durov who co-founded the network in 2006, wrote on his VKontakte page.

“We invite Edward to Petersburg and will be happy if he decides to join the dream team of VKontakte programmers,” wrote 28-year-old Durov.

Durov’s young age and sometimes extravagant statements have earned him comparisons with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

“No other Internet company in Europe is more popular than VK,” Durov said, referring to the shortened name of the social network, which boasts 210 million registered users and is based in Saint Petersburg.

“I think Edward would be interested in working on security of personal data of the millions of our users.”

A former contractor for the NSA, Snowden has been in Russia since June 23, when he arrived from Hong Kong after leaking details of US surveillance operations in the world.

He had stayed in the airport transit zone until Thursday, when Russia granted him asylum status for one year, allowing him to formally cross the border.

"Edward Snowden is a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia," said Robert Menendez, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Regardless of the fact that Russia is granting asylum for one year, this action is a setback to US-Russia relations."