US-Russia swap spies at Vienna airport


Prime VIP
Moscow/Washington, July 9

Russia and the US today 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.

The 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."