RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – July 9, 2010

Igor-Sutyagin-006.jpgTODAY: Biggest spy swap since Cold War apparently underway; Russian suspects plead guilty in New York; the ‘suburban spies’ exchanged for four pardoned by Russia; a case of pragmatism over pessimism?  Duma defence approves START; Memorial receives barrage of criticism from Chechen lawmakers and Kadryov; Belarus President under attack from Kremlin? Anti-mayoral reform protests; curators compare Russia to Nazi Germany; Georgian 130-year-old

The Moscow Times reports that the wheels of the spy swap are in motion: jailed scientist Igor Sutyagin has allegedly been sent to Vienna amid reports that Anna Chapman would be delivered to Moscow in exchange.  Apparently the Russians have pled guilty to conspiracy; they will be returned to Russia for alleged US/MI5 spies now pardoned by Medvedev.  The Russian quartet are Alexander Zaporozhsky, Gennady Vasilenko, Igor Sutyagin and Sergei Skripal.  The Washington Post provides the background on their stories.  The exchange may have ‘evoked memories of cold war-style bargaining’ but the collaborative effort for resolution ‘indicates that the Kremlin likewise values the warmer ties’, says the New York Times.  It was the traces of old Russia manifest in the operation that prompted the US to ‘be as aggressive in rolling up this operation as we were’ says one anonymous official.  Christopher Andrew, the official historian of MI5, tells the BBC that he thought the Russians were ‘getting a better bargain‘ out of the exchange.  ‘There was a hint of Moscow’s behind-the-scenes desperation to move its agents back to Russia’  the Guardian suggests.  There is a Q and A with espionage expert Jeff Burds in the Washington Post.   ‘With the damage averted, the positive trend can continue’ argues a Reuters reset analysis.  Richard Aldrich, a historian of espionage quoted by Reuters, agreed that pragmatism was the guiding principle in the exchange.  The Pentagon is apparently planning to spend $180 million on ten Russian military helicopters for Afghanistan’s air force despite complaints from certain congressmen.  The State Duma’s defense committee has recommended the ratification of the START treaty with the United States.

Russian rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina has told RFE/RL that the federal government knows little about the operations of human rights groups in the North Caucasus.  Two Chechen senators have blasted thework of Memorial, days after ChechenPresident Ramzan Kadyrov described its members as ‘enemies of thepeople’.  The organization says it may close its Chechnya branch over the alleged threats.  The Independent reports on Kadryov’s new favored spectator sport: women being paint-balled for not wearing traditional Muslim dress.

The Moscow Times has a sensitive report on a village attempting to rise out of the ashes of inter-ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan.  Brian Whitmore wonders whether an unflattering documentary is just the beginning of a Kremlin sponsored anti-Lukashenko campaign.  The New York Times reports that the two curators who are facing possible jail terms for an exhibition have told reporters that Russia is beginning to resemble Nazi Germany, contemporary Iran and the Soviet Union in its rampant nationalism and religion-based repression.  Some 2,000 people have protested in Angarsk against a new proposal for mayors to be appointed as opposed to voted in.   

Selinger youth camp is underway: is the camp shedding its political skin, wonders the Moscow Times, whilst examining the event’s foreign contingent.  Presdient Medvedev has made an appearance at the camp, talking, as ever, of change.   Construction workers in Pskov have discovered a World War II-era mass grave.  Georgia is celebrating the birthday of a woman who it claims is the world’s oldest person, having apparently reached the grand old age of 130.

PHOTO: Russian arms control analyst Igor Sutyagin, accused of spying for the United States, to be one of four people exchanged for 10 Russian spies.  (Maxim Marmur/AP)