Dramatic end to US-Russia spy scandal; 14 agents swapped

Last Updated: Friday, July 9, 2010 - 21:07

Moscow/Washington: Russia and the US on Friday
exchanged 14 secret agents in their biggest spy swap deal
since the Cold War in dramatic style, burying a major irritant
which had the potential to snowball into a major crisis.

US swapped 10 Russian spies for four American agents
under a deal at Vienna airport, reflecting the "high level of
trust" between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev.

The spying saga which unfolded late last month had the
potential to snowball into a major crisis, after Obama
recently met Medvedev and `reset` their troubled ties.
Special Russian and US planes took the spies to
the Austrian capital Vienna returned within 15 minutes of each
other after staging the dramatic swap.

A US jet carrying the 10 members of a Russian spy ring
caught in the US arrived from New York and parked next to a
Russian plane that reportedly brought four Russians jailed for
working for US and other Western nations.

The Russian foreign ministry in a statement said the
deal involved the "return to Russia of 10 Russian citizens
accused in the United States, along with the simultaneous
transfer to the United States of four individuals previously
condemned in Russia."

Both the nations swapped 10 Russian spies for four
Russians, who were acting as American agents and serving jail
terms in Russia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry here confirmed the swap
deal. "The relevant agreement has been reached between the
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the US Central
Intelligence Agency in the general context of improving
Russian-US relations," a Foreign Ministry statement said.

"The swap deal became possible thanks to a new
positive spirit of the Russia-US relations and a high level of
understanding and trust between the presidents of the two
countries, which no one will be able to undermine," a Kremlin
source was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS.

Symbolising warmed US-Russia ties, Obama and Medvedev
travelled in the same presidential limousine from the White
House to the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia, for
lunch at "Ray`s Hell-Burger" on June 24.

"All ten spy suspects earlier pleaded guilty in a New
York court to failing to register as foreign agents.

They also revealed their true identities and forfeited
assets attributable to the criminal offences," RIA Novosti
reported quoting the Justice Department release.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a
statement, "the United States and the Russian Federation
agreed that the United States would transfer these individuals
abroad and turn them over to Russian authorities. The Russian
Federation, in turn, would release four individuals
incarcerated in the Russian Federation."

"No significant national security benefit would be
gained from the prolonged incarceration in the United States
of these ten unlawful agents," he said.

The four American spy suspects were not immediately
named, but reports from Moscow indicated that the government
was preparing to release Igor Sutyagin, a prominent Russian
scientist who has been imprisoned for 11 years on espionage
charges he has steadfastly denied.

"This was an extraordinary case, developed through
years of work by investigators, intelligence lawyers, and
prosecutors, and the agreement we reached today provides a
successful resolution for the United States and its
interests," Attorney General Eric Holder said.

"I think in many respects the handling of this case
and its aftermath reflects the progress that we`ve made in
US-Russian relations," said a senior Administration official.

The alleged Russian spies left from New York`s La
Guardia airport on board a US government chartered plane to
Moscow and agreed never to return without permission from the
attorney general.

Under the exchange deal, Russia released four Russian
prisoners and allowed them to settle in the US with their
families.

The Kremlin announced that Medvedev had signed a
decree pardoning Alexander Zaporozhsky, Gennady Vasilenko,
Sergei Skripal and Igor Sutyagin convicted and serving various
prison terms in Russia for spying for Western intelligence
agencies.

"All four had appealed to the Russian president to
free them after admitting their crimes against the Russian
state", Kremlin spokesperson Natalia Timakova said.

The government-run RIA Novosti released following
details about the spies pardoned by Medvedev under the swap
deal: Igor Sutyagin, a Russian arms control and nuclear
weapons specialist, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in
Archangelsk, northwest Russia, in April 2004 for sharing state
secrets with US military intelligence.

Sergei Skripal, a former GRU Military Intelligence
colonel, was sentenced in 2006 to 13 years in prison for
spying for Britain.

He had allegedly shared information on dozens of his
former colleagues operating in Europe undercover, in
particular their secret meeting places, addresses, and
passwords. Gennady Vasilenko, a former KGB agent, was arrested
in 1998 on suspicion of spying for the United States.

He was released six months later but arrested again in
2005 and sentenced to three years in prison for illegal
weapons possession and resistance to authorities while working
as a security chief for Russia`s NTV television.

Alexander Zaporozhsky, a former colonel in the Russian
Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), was sentenced in 2003 to
18 years in prison for espionage on behalf of the United
States.

PTI



First Published: Friday, July 9, 2010 - 21:07

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