The four convicts pardoned by Russia in spy swap

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President Dmitry Medvedev has pardoned four Russians as part of the dramatic spy swap with the United States that resulted in the freeing of 10 Russian agents who admitted spying for the Kremlin.

The four have spent up to 11 years in jail, in harsh conditions, including hard regime prisons in the Far North of Russia.

Three are known to have been convicted of espionage in cases that were widely publicised at the time of their conviction. However almost nothing is known about the fourth man, whose background remains highly enigmatic.


The most high-profile of the four, Sutyagin was convicted in 2004 of handing over classified information to a British company that Russia claimed was a CIA cover, and sentenced to 15 years in jail.

It was Sutyagin's lawyer who gave the first indication that the prisoner swap was planned, saying that her client had been moved from his prison in the Far North of Russia to Moscow and told he was to be released in an exchange.

Human rights activists appealed to the authorities to free him, saying he had no access to secrets and openly worked with foreign academics.

Sutyagin, a Russian arms control expert, 45, was first detained in October 1999 in his home town. He was charged in November that year with treason but in a long and convoluted process, he was not convicted until 2004.

He has always maintained his innocence but has had to admit his guilt under the terms of the presidential pardon.


Skripal, 59, is a former colonel with Russian military intelligence (GRU) who was sentenced in 2006 to 13 years jail on charges of spying for Britain.

He retired in 1999 from his post at the GRU and then worked in the Russian foreign ministry and then business. He was then arrested in 2004 on suspicion of contacts with a British diplomat.

According to the Kommersant newspaper, the investigation showed he had been recruited by British intelligence in 1995 and received 100,000 dollars for passing on information on GRU agents living in European countries.


Zaporozhsky, a former employee of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), was jailed for 18 years for espionage in 2003.

He was accused of handing over to the CIA information about the activities of the Russian intelligence services abroad. A former deputy chief of the SVR's American department, he was accused of contacting the CIA during a trip to Argentina in 1994.

He left active service in 1997 and went to live in the United States. He was arrested after disembarking a plane in Moscow in 2001.


Whereas the other three were convicted in cases that were highly publicised at the time, almost nothing is known about Vasilenko.

Russian media described him as a former employee of the Soviet-era KGB, who was sentenced in 2006 to three years in jail for illegal possession of arms, attempted construction of explosive materials and showing resistance to the police.

© 2010 AFP

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