U.S.-Russia Carry Out Largest Spy Swap In Decades
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
Two planes met today on the tarmac in Vienna. One was American, the other was Russian. Onboard the American plane: 10 Russian agents who pleaded guilty yesterday in New York. They were exchanged for four people convicted of spying for the West. Last night, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pardoned those four, and this morning, they were on the Russian plane.
Well, NPR's David Greene is tracking all this, and he joins us now, live from Moscow.
DAVID GREENE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So the Justice Department has confirmed now that the transfer was successful, and I understand both planes have now arrived at their destinations. Is that right?
GREENE: Yeah. The deed is done, and we think the planes have landed. British media is saying that the plane, the American plane has landed in the UK at a military base - at least that's what they're reporting. And the Russian plane went to Vienna and has come back and landed at Domodedovo Airport, which is a commercial airport just outside of Moscow.
KELLY: Well, you know, the pictures coming out of Vienna this morning were fascinating, showing that the two planes parked right next to each other, nose to tail, for just over an hour. Do we have any idea what was taking place onboard while they sat there?
GREENE: It's not clear. I mean, I think we saw a lot of symbolism. I think we can say that. I mean, you know, the - Russia and the U.S., they're trying to keep this very secretive, but I think both governments were happy to let those planes sit there and get some television footage of the two of them.
What happened beyond that, you know, it's hard to say. Russia - where I've been living now for about almost a year - is a place that loves bureaucracy. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a lot of paperwork when these people came back to Russia.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KELLY: Right. Even spies do their paperwork sometimes.
GREENE: Yeah, exactly. Make sure all the I's are dotted and the T's crossed. But who knows beyond that? Hopefully, we'll learn more in the days ahead.
KELLY: What do we know, David, about these four who were on the plane that went from Russia to England today? Is that their final destination?
GREENE: We don't know. One of them, Igor Sutyagin, has said that he would rather stay in Russia. So it's not clear where he wants to go at this point. One of the others is eager to join family in the United States. So if there's going to be a plane carrying them away from the UK, if they're going to be going to various locations on their own, we're not sure yet.
KELLY: And what do we know about them? Who are these four? Why were they released?
GREENE: This man I mentioned, Igor Sutyagin, was a - he was a young arms-control researcher. He was arrested back in 1999. He's Russian, so he was arrested in his own country. You know, he worked for a think tank. He says that he was never a spy. He was just doing research that was open to anyone who wanted to take a look at it. I talked to someone who worked with him, the deputy director of the think tank where he worked, a Viktor Kremenyuk. And he said, you know, the late '90s were a time when British firms, American firms were looking for scholars who were working in Russia to learn more about what was going on. A British firm came to Sutyagin, and here's what the gentleman, Kremenyuk, had to say.
Mr. VIKTOR KREMENYUK (Deputy Director, Russian Think Tank): I think that Mr. Sutyagin, being a young man, rather ambitious, very clever intellectual, maybe he decided, you know, to respond and to work together.
GREENE: And one of the others, Mary Louise, Alexander Zaporozhsky - I actually had to look back and read some of the old news reports about him. He was considered by some in the Russian press to have been the one who betrayed Robert Philip Hanssen, who is the American convicted of spying for the Soviet Union. We're not sure if that was true, but he lived in the United States, went back to Russia, might have been lured back, was arrested and has been in jail until now. He's freed.
KELLY: Wow. All right. Thanks, David.
GREENE: Thank you, Mary Louise.
KELLY: That's NPR's Moscow correspondent David Greene, reporting on the this morning's U.S.-Russia spy swap, which we think might be the largest since the Cold War.