Moscow wants to exchange a married couple of Russian spies jailed this month in Germany for at least one convict jailed in Russia on charges of spying for the West, a report said Monday.
Russia’s Kommersant newspaper said that the Russian secret services wanted to bring the pair — known only by their code names Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag — back home to Russia after decades as “sleepers” in Germany.
In a Cold War-style exchange, Moscow would simultaneously hand over to the West at least one spy convicted of passing secrets to Berlin or its allies, the paper said.
Another source told the paper that Moscow had waited until after the trial was over to seek the exchange, in case the legal process shed further light on how their cover had been blown.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied to the paper that any exchange had been discussed at talks in June between President Vladimir Putin and Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The man known as Andreas Anschlag was jailed for six and a half years and Heidrun Anschlag for five and a half years by the higher regional court in the southwestern city of Stuttgart.
The pair were planted in the former West Germany from 1988 by the Soviet Union’s KGB secret service and later worked for its successor the SVR, the court heard.
Kommersant said that the jailed couple’s lawyer Horst-Dieter Petschke confirmed that the swap was expected and told the paper that the exchange could “happen at any moment”.
It said that possible candidates to be freed in Russia in such an exchange included Andrei Dumenkov, who was jailed in 2006 for 12 years for seeking to hand Germany data on Russian missile designs.
Another name citied is Valery Mikhailov, a former colonel in the Russian security service who was jailed in 2012 for 18 years for spying for the United States.
Such spy exchanges, familiar from the Cold War era and John le Carre novels, already have a precedent in post-Soviet Russian history.
In 2010, Russia and the United States agreed a sensational spy swap of 10 Russian “sleeper” agents caught in the United States for four men convicted in Russia of spying for the West.
The 10 Russian spies — including the glamourous female agent Anna Chapman — were brought back to Moscow and subsequently personally welcomed by Putin.