So when the administration of Barack Obama offered a face-saving exchange, which the White House reportedly favored before the 10 suspects were even apprehended, the Kremlin jumped at the chance.
There is probably a fair bit of truth to this assessment. Writing in today's edition of "Vremya novostei," journalists Anatoly Karavayev and Victor Paukov offer the following assessment:
According to a report in "Kommersant" on June 30, just two days after the Russians were arrested, the Kremlin put the word out to officials and regime-friendly pundits not to escalate the scandal with inflammatory comments."Such a restrained reaction suggests that Moscow would like to hush up the scandal as soon as possible, an informed insider tells Kommersant," the daily wrote.
But a recent editorial in "gazeta.ru" suggests that there was more to the Kremlin's eagerness to put the scandal behind them than a desire to preserve the thaw in U.S.-Russian relations:
What is the Kremlin trying to hide. My colleagues Robert Coalson and Gregory Feifer offer their takes here, here, and here.
Much of the media attention about the swap has focused on Igor Sutyagin, an arms control researcher who didn't have access to classified material and who most neutral observers believe is not a spy.
But as a report in the "Financial Times" notes (h/t to Robert Amsterdam), the other three people the Russians turned over to the West could indeed turn out to be very valuable assets:
Intelligence experts said of the three Russians going to the west, the most significant was Alexander Zaporozhsky. A decorated former KGB officer, he gave the CIA information on as many as 20 Russian intelligence assets in the U.S., possibly including Mr. [Robert] Hanssen and Mr. [Aldrich] Ames, according to the Russian press. The second most important is Sergei Skripal, a former colonel of Russia’s military intelligence branch, the GRU. Russian media said he had exposed dozens of Russian officers working for British intelligence.
Writing in "Vremya novostei," Karavayev and Paukov argue that the United States won this round hands down, but add that the game is far from over. First, they say, we can expect a reckoning in the Russian security services. And then, a retaliation against Washington:
In Russia, the outcome of the scandal may only satisfy the political leadership but not secret services. The latter are accustomed to the talion law of an eye for an eye. So this shameful a fiasco must have smeared a lot of reputes and perhaps even jeopardized some careers. Representatives of the siloviki in the Russian political establishment are unlikely to relax until some sort of 'symmetric' answer is formulated, i.e., until they embarrass the Americans back. It stands to reason to expect exposure of some American spies in Russia before long, which is going to become another test for the 'reset.'
-- Brian Whitmore