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Russia and Lithuania conduct Cold War-style spy swap

November 15, 2019

Lithuania has handed over two convicted Russian spies to Moscow, with three spies headed in the opposite direction. Two Lithuanians were freed, along with a Norwegian border guard, as part of the Cold War-style swap.

Frode Berg's case became a national cause
Frode Berg's case became a national cause in NorwayImage: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/P. Golovkin

Russia and Lithuania conducted a spy swap at a border checkpoint between the Baltic state and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on Friday.

The exchange involved two Russians convicted of espionage — Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergei Moiseyenko — and two Lithuanians found guilty of spying — Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamosaitis.

It also included the Norwegian national Frode Berg, a retired border inspector who was arrested in December 2017.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg hailed the release of Berg, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in April for collecting information about Russian nuclear submarines.

Inside Europe: Russia charges Norwegian with spying

"We are happy that Frode Berg is now coming home to Norway as a free man,'' Solberg said, thanking Lithuania for its "cooperation and efforts" in securing the release.

While Berg had admitted to acting as a courier for Norwegian intelligence, he insisted he believed he was only delivering money.

The 63-year-old was well-known in the Russian-Norwegian border area, often participating in cultural and humanitarian exchange projects.

"It is very good for all the parties, the local community, the family, the Norwegian nation," Oeystein Hansen, a member of a support group in Berg's hometown, told the Reuters news agency by phone.

Meanwhile, a statement from the Lithuanian government said the Russian pair had been granted clemency and "released from serving the remaining term of imprisonment."

Plot to spy on president's office

Filipchenko and Moiseyenko were convicted in 2017 of recruiting or trying to recruit Lithuanian officials for Russian intelligence.

Filipchenko, who Lithuanian officials said was a lieutenant colonel in Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), was said to have been recruiting government security staff to take part in a bugging operation on the presidency. He was also convicted of crossing a state border using a forged document and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Read more: Germany opens huge new spy HQ in Berlin

Moiseyenko was sentenced to 10 years and six months for recruiting a Lithuanian army captain who served at the country's Siauliai military air base.

The Lithuanian Mataitis, who also holds Russian citizenship and who had been serving as a captain in the Russian armed forces, was jailed for 13 years for passing on military information.

Tamosaitis was detained on spying charges in Russia in 2015 and sentenced behind closed doors to 12 years in prison.

Relations between Russia and Lithuania — both former Soviet states — have been especially tense since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Although Norway and Russia enjoy relatively cordial relations, these have also been strained in the wake of the Crimea takeover.

rc/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)

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