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Ron Radosh

Final Thoughts on the Russian-American Spy Swap

July 9th, 2010 - 8:20 am

The ten arrested Russian spies have arrived in Vienna, and shortly will be back in Moscow. Sentenced last night in New York, they gave their real Russian names, pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to time served — a few short days.

Never has a spy swap been orchestrated so quickly. In the era of the Cold War, there were plenty of swaps. The most famous was that of KGB Colonel Rudolf Abel for the U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers in 1962. Abel was the name he adopted, when he lived in Greenwich Village and Brooklyn,  and posed as an artist. In all the swaps, Russian spies were exchanged after having already served real time in  American prisons, and after they had been thoroughly interrogated.

Later, the Soviets exchanged political dissidents who were given freedom in exchange for their spies. The most famous was that of Natan Sharansky. Sharanksy and three low-level Western spies (Czech citizen Jaroslav Javorský and West German citizens Wolf-Georg Frohn and Dietrich Nistroy) were exchanged for Czech spies Karl Koecher and Hana Koecher held in the USA, Soviet spy Yevgeni Zemlyakov, Polish spy Jerzy Kaczmarek and GDR spy Detlef Scharfenorth (the latter three held in Western Germany) in 1986 on Glienicke Bridge.

Attorney General Eric Holder, in a statement for television and the press, readily admitted that what lay behind the exchange was not issues of national security, but the Obama administration’s concern for diplomatic relations with Vladimir Putin’s new Russia. As a New York Times story put it, “President Obama has made the ‘reset’ of Russian-American relations a top foreign policy priority, and the quiet collaboration over the spy scandal indicates that the Kremlin likewise values the warmer ties.”

The issue, however, is whether the results are equally beneficial to both the United States and Russia. Clearly, while our government is bending over backwards to play nice with Putin, the Russian government is up to its old ways in dealing with the United States, as the placement of these sleeper spies indicates.

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