(Carlo – I reply to your emails via this post for all, I hope you don’t mind – VS)
Now its official: the USA and Russia have swapped ‘spies’. Or are they?!
Well, the Russians have for sure released some very real spies, including a nuclear scientist and even a former GRU Colonel (now that there is no death penalty in Russia, this guy should, IMHO, have received life without parole. An agency like the GRU simply cannot afford to have traitors in its midst).
But does that make the Russian ‘spies’ in the US any more real? I absolutely do not think so. I have no idea why the Russian government agreed to this deal and I very much regret that it did. I would have loved to see these absolutely ridiculous accusations cross-examined. Of course, the US regime could have done what it does so often – ordered a secret trial. So from the humanitarian point of view, I am happy for the 11 “spies” that they are now back in Russia. Except for the case of Sergei Skripal, I see nothing wrong with the Russians expelling a number of spies to get their nationals back.
But does that make them real SVR ‘illegals’? Of course not.
So maybe some other agency was involved. Under Eltsin there was a quasi constant “reforming” of the Russian intelligence community with constant name changes, boss changes, missions changes, fusion of agencies, etc. etc. Eltsin’s notorious bodyguard Korzhakov even created his own, as did all the big “new Russian” oligarchs and many banks. And since the “private sector’ and the Russian mob are really so intertwined as to be indistinguishable, God only knows how many private spy agencies or “for hire” spy agencies are out there. These 11 could have been linked to any of them.
Another thing which supports this version is that, at least according to the FBI, these guys have been monitored for a full decade. Well, if the FBI monitored them for a full decade, that means that whatever training or preparations they got was in the mid to late 1990s – exactly during the infamous Eltsin years. And one can easily imagine that what these 11 did was to get the hell out of a crisis ravaged Russia and then flashed a middle-finger to Eltsin’s wannabe spy masters. After all, it is quite clear from the FBI documents that even though these 11 were monitored during a decade, they did absolutely nothing illegal. In other words, they were happy to enjoy their new lives and did not give a damn about spying.
In theory, it is conceivable that this could have happened with the SVR but I honestly don’t think so. I have had the opportunity to meet a number of former PGU SSSR (First Main Directorate of the KGB, the external intelligence branch, which then became the SVR) officers in the mid 1990s and while they were not happy about the situation of their agency, they did not report an apocalyptic collapse down to a “kindergarten level” of spy playing.
My guess is therefore that these 11 were the product of some semi-private operation which the Russian government today is embarrassed by and this is why they agreed to the exchange.