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Russian spies get tepid reception in Moscow

The spies deported to Russia are getting a tepid, uneasy reception. State-controlled national TV channels reported their return concisely, with none of the patriotic fervor that could accompany such a story.
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

The spies deported to Russia are getting a tepid, uneasy reception.

The 10 who pleaded guilty to acting a foreign agents in the United States, including one Peruvian, weren't publicly visible Saturday, a day after being swapped on the tarmac of the Vienna airport for four Russians convicted of spying for the West.

State-controlled national television channels reported their return concisely, with none of the patriotic fervor that could accompany such a story. The straightforward approach may itself be a sort of spin, reflecting the Kremlin's clear desire for the case to go away for fear that it could undermine efforts to improve relations with Washington.

No national TV channels carried live coverage of the plane's landing Friday, even though it was available from international news agencies.

Newspapers were more vivid, though hardly complimentary.

"A staggering success in the fight against world espionage: Russians exchanged for Russians," the leftist newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya said in its headline. It also noted sourly that the swap showed "one American agent is equivalent to the worth of two-and-a-half Russian agents."

Moskovsky Komsomolets, one of Russia's most popular newspapers, put the spies below its top story about an octopus and a parakeet predicting World Cup soccer results. Newspaper commentator Alexander Khinshtein fumed that the four sent out from Russia would likely be lauded in the West.

"There will be a scrum around them; everybody will want to shake the hands of the heroes, invite them to lunch and dinner ... the saboteur (Igor) Sutyagin will be embraced by congressmen," he wrote.

The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper focused on the fate of two convicted Russian spies sent to the U.K. and buried the arrival of Anna Chapman, Mikhail Semenko and eight others in lower paragraphs.

The online edition of the Gazeta newspaper cited a former KGB agent, Vladimir Rubanov, as saying the latest spies could be drafted to be teachers of future generations of spies, even though they apparently produced little useful information and eventually got caught.

"Mistakes can be learned from," he said.

According to Moscow press reports on Saturday, Chapman and Sutyagin both called siblings after the spy exchange.

"Everything is OK, we have landed," Chapman told her sister by phone from Moscow's Domodedovo airport on Friday, a friend of the family told the Tvoi Den tabloid.

Sutyagin telephoned his brother Dmitry from a hotel in a small town outside London to say he was evaluating his future.

Sutyagin told his brother that any rumors regarding plans to apply for political asylum in Britain were untrue.

"He doesn't want to talk about his future so far and wants first to analyze the situation... If you hear from anybody that he intends to appeal for political asylum in Britain or return to Russia, you should know this is untrue," Dmitry Sutyagin told Interfax.