Accessibility links

Breaking News

US-Russia Spy Exchange Brings Quick End to Case

Russian, front, and American airplanes used Friday in the exchange of 14 people, including four Russian prisoners, at Vienna's Schwechat airport

Click Arrow to Hear This Program:

Play Audio File

Or download MP3 (Right-click or option-click and save link)

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Russia and the United States have completed the largest spy exchange since the Cold War. On Friday, at an airport in Vienna, Austria, an American plane and a Russian plane landed, parked side by side and exchanged occupants.

The United States freed ten admitted Russian agents. The men and women were arrested in late June and pleaded guilty on Thursday.

In exchange, Russia released four Russians serving prison sentences on charges of spying for the West. The men include Igor Sutyagin, an arms researcher who always denied the charges. Some considered him a political prisoner.

The United States deported nine Russians and an American citizen born in Peru. Some raised children while living quiet lives as married couples. An eleventh suspect disappeared after being freed on bail in Cyprus.

The group was accused of trying to gain information on American nuclear weapons, foreign policy and politics for the SVR -- Russia's foreign intelligence service.

The way both countries are handling the issue suggests that "neither side is interested in starting a fight." So says Andrei Koztunof of the New Eurasia Foundation in Moscow. Russia's Foreign Ministry praised the exchange, saying, "The action was taken in the general context of improved Russian-U.S. relations."

The ten were only charged with plotting to act as undeclared foreign agents. They were not charged with the more serious crime of espionage, so the extent of their success as spies is not clear.

A drawing of the 10 men and women who admitted to being Russian agents in a federal court in New York
A drawing of the 10 men and women who admitted to being Russian agents in a federal court in New York

One of the Russians, Anna Chapman, captured attention with her looks and stories of her New York party life. Her lawyer, Robert Baum, said she had not passed secret information to Russia or received any payment.

ROBERT BAUM: "The only allegations against her was that she communicated with a Russian official through a laptop to laptop communication, without the government specifying the nature of the communications."

Peruvian-born Vicki Pelaez was a columnist for a Spanish-language newspaper in New York. Her lawyer said she never knew that her husband of many years, Juan Lazaro, was really a Russian named Mikhail Vasenkov.

The arrests took place in four states: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia. The Justice Department announced the arrests on June twenty-eighth, four days after the so-called hamburger summit.

President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ate hamburgers at a restaurant near Washington. That day, Mr. Obama said the two countries had succeeded in "resetting" their relationship.

The ten Russian agents cannot return to the United States without special permission. They are also barred from making any money in the United States by selling their story.

In another development, Friday brought news of the death of Sergei Tretyakov, once Russia's top spy. He defected to the United States ten years ago. His wife and a friend said he died at his home in Florida on June thirteenth. They did not give the cause of death. Sergei Tretyakov was fifty-three years old.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.


Update: Pete Earley, who wrote a book about Sergei Tretyakov, said the former spy's wife told him he died of a heart attack. The Associated Press reported that a medical examiner's report would be completed after July 26.


Includes reporting by Gabe Joselow, Carolyn Presutti and Carolyn Weaver