Friday, July 9, 2010

On Tarmac in Vienna, U.S. and Russia Swap Prisoners

Via -

In a seeming flashback to the cold war, Russian and American officials traded prisoners in the bright sunlight on the tarmac of a Vienna airport on Friday, bringing to a quick end an episode that had threatened to disrupt relations between the two countries.

Planes carrying 10 convicted Russian sleeper agents and 4 men accused by Moscow of spying for the West swooped into Vienna, once a hub of clandestine East-West maneuvering, and the men and women were transferred, according to an American official. The planes soon took off again, presumably heading back to Russia and the United States in a coda fitting of an espionage novel.

Live television from Vienna showed an American Vision Airlines jet believed to be carrying the Russian agents deported from the United States parked only a matter of yards from the Russian plane, identified by The Associated Press as belonging to Moscow’s Emergencies Ministry. Then, more than an hour later, the Russian-flagged plane took off into clear blue skies, and the American airplane departed shortly after.


The 10 sleeper agents had pleaded guilty to conspiracy before a federal judge in Manhattan after revealing their true identities. All 10 were sentenced to time served and ordered deported.


The agreement we reached today provides a successful resolution for the United States and its interests,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement.

Within hours of the New York court hearing, the Kremlin announced that President Dmitri A. Medvedev had signed pardons for the four men Russia considered spies after each of them signed statements admitting guilt.

The Kremlin identified them as Igor V. Sutyagin, an arms control researcher held for 11 years; Sergei Skripal, a colonel in Russia’s military intelligence service sentenced in 2006 to 13 years for spying for Britain; Mr. Zaporozhsky, a former agent with Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service who has served 7 years of an 18-year sentence; and Gennadi Vasilenko, a former K.G.B. major who was arrested in 1998 for contacts with a C.I.A. officer but eventually released only to be arrested again in 2005 and later convicted on illegal weapons charges.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry attributed the agreement to the warming trend between Washington and Moscow.

“This action was carried out in the overall context of improved Russian-American relations,” the statement said. “This agreement gives reason to hope that the course agreed upon by Russia and the United States will be accordingly realized in practice and that attempts to derail the course will not succeed.”


Administration officials who insisted on the condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate decision would not say who initially proposed a swap but added that they considered it a fruitful idea because they saw “no significant national security benefits from their continued incarceration,” as one put it. Some of the four Russians to be freed are in ill health, the official added.

Another American official, who was not authorized to speak about the case, said officials of the intelligence agencies were the channel for most of the negotiations, particularly Leon E. Panetta, the director of the C.I.A., and Mikhail Y. Fradkov, director of the S.V.R., Russia’s foreign intelligence agency.

The official said the American side decided “we could trade these agents — who really had nothing to tell us that we didn’t already know — for people who had never stopped fighting for their freedom in Russia.”

No comments:

Post a Comment