10 Jul 2010

Russia, US complete airport spy swap

7:18 am on 10 July 2010

The biggest spy swap since the Cold War has been completed as Russia and the United States traded agents at Vienna airport.

Two aircraft - one Russian, one American - parked side by side for about 90 minutes as vehicles shuttled between them.

The Russian agents, five men and five women, were earlier deported from the United States after a court hearing at which they admitted spying for a foreign country.

Hours after the exchange, they arrived at a Moscow airport and were whisked away in a convoy of vehicles.

The same day the court hearing took place in New York, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree in Moscow pardoning four Russians in prison for spying for the West.

They included Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear scientist jailed in 2004 for spying for the CIA, and Sergei Skripal, a Russian military intelligence officer convicted of spying for Britain four years ago.

The BBC reports that the swap allows Russia and the US to avoid potentially embarrassing and diplomatically damaging court wrangling at a time when they are pursuing warmer relations.