The US has returned 10 Russian secret agents in exchange for four Westerners held by the Kremlin in what's seen as the most sensational spy swap since the Cold War.
Cold War-style spy swap was apparently planned well ahead of arrests
Ten Russian secret agents arrived back in Moscow via the Austrian capital Vienna on Friday after being deported from New York as part of a spy swap between the Kremlin and the United States.
Pictures of Chapman have made their way through the net
The agents pled guilty during a brief New York federal court session to acting as illegal agents for the Russian government and were subsequently expelled from the United States.
Though the case has received widespread media coverage - with one of the spies, Anna Chapman, becoming a tabloid sensation due to nude photographs of the 28-year-old that have surfaced on the internet - the spy ring appears to have been amateurish and made little impact in the decade since being formed.
"No significant national security benefit would be gained from the prolonged incarceration in the United States of these 10 unlawful agents," State Department spokesman Mark Toner in response to the quick release.
The secret agents are prohibited reentrance to the US
In exchange for the agents, Moscow agreed to release four Russians detained in the country for spying for Western countries.
A plane carrying the freed Western spies has landed in Washington.
Nuclear expert included in Russian pardon
A spokesman for President Dmitry Medvedev confirmed late on Thursday that the four Russians would be pardoned, including arms control expert Igor Sutyagin.
A lawyer for Sutyagin, who was sent to the frozen wastelands of Arkhangelsk in northern Russia after being convicted in 2004, said her client was being flown to Vienna.
Also to be exchanged was Sergei Skripal, a former colonel with Russian military intelligence sentenced in 2006 to 13 years jail on charges of spying for Britain.´
Dozens of spies from East and West were freed at Glienicke
The remaining two were Alexander Zaporozhsky, a former employee of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service who was jailed for 18 years for espionage in 2003, and a fourth man called Gennadi Vasilenko.
The exchange of captured agents between Western and Eastern powers was common practice during the Cold War, with the swaps sometimes occurring on the Glienicke Bridge between East Germany and West Berlin.
The last high-profile swap took place in 1984, when US journalist Nicholas Daniloff was expelled from Russia the day before Gennady Zakharov, a Soviet official at the United Nations, was sent back to Moscow after briefly appearing before a New York court.
Author: Gabriel Borrud (AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson