Russian spy suspects in court 311 AP.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
MOSCOW - A Russian spymaster was convicted of treason in absentia on Monday for betraying ten US-based agents in one of Moscow's most embarrassing intelligence failures since the Cold War.
"Mary, try to take this calmly: I am leaving not for a short time but forever," Colonel Alexander Poteyev wrote in a text message sent to his wife as he fled Russia, and read out to the Moscow military court. "I did not want this but I had to. I am starting a new life. I shall try to help the children."
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The unmasking of the Russian spy ring last June, just days after President Dmitry Medvedev's Washington summit with Barack Obama, was a major embarrassment for the Kremlin which has sought to improve ties with the United States.
A judge at the court, meeting in closed session, said Poteyev, a colonel in Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), had inflicted "significant damage to Russian security," Interfax news agency reported.
The judge, who was not named in the local media reports, said that
Poteyev had passed details about how Moscow finances and communicates
with its spies working abroad to the US Central Intelligence Agency
Poteyev, deputy head of the SVR's "S" department that oversees "deep
cover" spying operations, was sentenced to a 25-year prison term. Court
materials were classified as "secret".
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB spy, said last year
that traitors come to a bad end and a Russian newspaper quoted Kremlin
source as saying a hitman had been sent after the man who betrayed
Russia's spying operation.
The unmasking of the spy ring made Poteyev one of Russia's most senior
turncoats in decades and weakened Foreign Intelligence Service chief
Mikhail Fradkov, a former prime minister.
All ten Russian agents arrested in the United States pleaded guilty and
were deported to Russia in a swap for four people imprisoned in Russia
for contact with Western intelligence agencies.
As deputy director of deep cover operations -- spies known as "illegals"
because they operate with false identities with no diplomatic cover --
Poteyev had access to almost all the secrets about Russia's spying
operations in the United States.
Such was the damage to the reputation of Russia's Foreign Intelligence
Service that Russian media reported that it was having to fight off
attempts to fold it into the powerful Federal Security Service (FSB),
the main successor of the Soviet-era KGB.
Poteyev, who had received state awards including a medal for "impeccable
service," fled Russia by traveling to Belarus where US intelligence
agents spirited him back to the United States.