No Homeland Glory for Russian Spies

Spy Swap: Trade Takes Place, 10 Russian Spies Head HomeABC News
The United States and Russia exchanged spies this morning on the tarmac of the airport in Vienna, Austria, bringing an end to a 12-day saga that reminded the world that secret agents and invisible ink are not a thing of the past.

The 10 spies sent back to Mother Russia in a swap with the United States received a less than glorious welcome, swept away from the Moscow airport in a black minivan and kept out of public view.

"What? To tell you the truth I don't know, I haven't seen it on TV and can't help you," a Russian woman said when told about the arrests in the United States and the swap for four people who were imprisoned in Russia for spying.

Local media offered little coverage of the arrival, labeling it the "happy ending" and changing their coverage toward the four Russian citizens transferred to United Kingdom and United States.

VIDEO: The Spy SwapPlay

Moskovsky Komsomolets, a prominent Russian newspaper, buried the story under the front page coverage about the octopus in German that had been predicting World Cup results.

What coverage there was of the events, mostly criticized the spies as amateurs.

Headlines such as "Spy Scandal comes out into a new level of farce: CIA Agents are being exchanged for who knows what," on, condemned the government's decision.

"It was a first time ever that Russian media mocked and ridiculed some of the agents involved in the spy network in America," said Alexander Nekrassov, a former Kremlin advisor.

Independent radio Moscow Echo, known as one of the most liberal radio stations, went as far as to announce a contest for caricatures called "Russian Spies in the U.S.A."

"I view this situation like one of the brightest theater plays of nonsense," Genadiy Gudkov, deputy president of the Russian Parliament security committee, told Moskovskiy Komsomolets. "Our intelligence has completely forgotten how to work."

Many of the Russian population gave no thought to the recent events. An independent poll conducted by Levada Center found that 41 percent of Russians had not heard about the spy scandal.

One Russian who did hear about the case, Alexander Bolshakov, told ABC News that he though the 10 could hardly be called "spies."

On June 28, 10 Russian spies, were arrested in United States, after their identities were revealed in court, Obama's administration agreed to release them to Russian authorities in exchange for three highly valuable former secret service agents that were accused of spying for foreign countries and jailed for treason, as well as scientist Igor Sutyagin.

Sutyagin is a nuclear weapons expert who was convicted of espionage in 2004 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for passing classified military information to a British firm that prosecutors said was a front for the CIA.

According to the Sutyagins' lawyer Anna Stavitskaya, Sutyagin and his family are sad that he had to admit to being guilty in exchange for freedom, but said he had no other choice. Sutyagin has maintained that he is innocent.

The Russians operating in the United States -- Anna Chapman, Donald Howard Heathfield, Tracy Lee Ann Foley, Patricia Mills, Michael Zottoli, Vicky Pelaez, Juan Lazaro, Richard Murphy, Cynthia Murphy and Mikhail Semenko -- were turned over to Russian authorities in Vienna, Austria.

Unlike their counterparts in Russia, the American neighbours of one of the swapped agents, Alexander Zaporozhsky, said they were thrilled to have him back.

Zaporozhsky was a former colonel in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service was sentenced in 2003 to 18 years in prison for espionage on behalf of the United States.

He quit the service in 1997 and settled in the United States, but Russia enticed him back and arrested him in 2001. He was convicted on charges of passing secret information about Russian agents working under cover in the United States and about American sources working for Russian intelligence.

Some might find it unfair to exchange 10 Russian spies for four American.

"We should not look at the numbers of people that were exchanged, but the quality," Nekrassov said. "On balance the four American spies probably are more important than the 10 Russian spies. The Americans gained an advantage in this spy exchange."

Vice President Joe Biden expressed the same sentiment on "The Tonight Show" Friday, when host Jay Leno asked about whether the deal was really fair.

"We got back four really good ones," Biden said. "And the 10, they've been here a long time, but they hadn't done much."

The Associated Press contributed to the report.