UK to block spy swap woman's plea to live here

IN SCENES that could have leapt straight from a James Bond film, the largest spy swap between the US and Russia since the Cold War was carried out yesterday in a tightly choreographed diplomatic dance.

Ten spies arrested in the US, including red-haired Russian Anna

Chapman, were exchanged for four convicted in Russia at Vienna's airport.

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Two planes – one from New York and the other from Moscow – arrived in Vienna within minutes of each other. A bus transferred the spies between the planes and, the swap completed, a Russian Emergencies Ministry Yakovlvev Yak-42 plane left carrying the 10 deportees.

Shortly afterward, the Boeing 767 that brought the agents from New York took off, apparently with four Russians who had confessed to spying for the West.

The US aircraft landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, where it dropped off two of the four agents released by Russia before continuing to America.

Ms Chapman, the glamorous 28-year-old who was married to a Briton and lived in London, has said she wants to return to Britain. But British authorities last night confirmed they had launched an investigation that could see her stripped of her British passport and blocked from returning.

Security officials have been poring over details of her former life in Britain, which includes her marriage to 30-year-old Alex Chapman, from Bournemouth, in Dorset. The trainee psychiatrist was married to the Russian, maiden name Kushchenko, for four years before they divorced in 2006.

They met while she was studying economics at Moscow University and lived for a time in London where she worked between 2003 and 2007.

Mr Chapman's family have claimed she was lured into something she had not fully understood. A Home Office spokesman said: "The Home Secretary has the right to deprive dual nationals of British citizenship where she considers that to do so would be conducive to the public good. This case is under urgent consideration."

Others deported from the US included Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills, who told authorities after their arrest their real names were Mikhail Kutzik and Natalia Pereverzeva.

The pair were arrested in the Washington DC suburb of Arlington, Virginia, where they had been living as a married couple with two young children.

Zottoli and Mills lived in Seattle before moving to Virginia and the FBI said agents searching their home found a short-wave radio. Vienna has long been involved in Cold War-like machinations, the capital of neutral Austria being a preferred place to work on treaties and agreements meant to reduce US-Soviet tensions. Both countries won admissions of crimes from the subjects of the exchange – guilty pleas in the US and signed confessions in Russia.

In exchange for the 10 Russian agents, the US won freedom for and access to two former Russian intelligence colonels who had been convicted in their home country of compromising dozens of valuable Soviet-era secrets plus Russian agents in the West.

Two others also convicted of betraying Moscow were wrapped into the deal.

One ex-colonel, Alexander Zaporozhsky, may have exposed information leading to the capture of Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, two of the most damaging spies ever caught in the US.

US officials said some of those freed by Russia were ill, and cited humanitarian concerns in part for arranging the hurried swap. Former CIA officer Peter Earnest said: "This sends a powerful signal to people who co-operate with us that we will stay loyal to you. Even if you have been in jail for years, we will not forget you."

The 10 Russian agents arrested in the US had been under watch for up to a decade. Their access to top US national security secrets appeared spotty at best.

Lawyer for one Vicky Pelaez said the Russian government offered her $2,000-a-month for life – rather than the years behind bars she could have faced in the US if she had not agreed to the deal.

HOW THE DEAL WAS DONE

US officials met the convicted spies on Monday in Russia and offered them a chance for freedom. Russian officials in the US held similar meetings with the agents captured by the FBI.

The Kremlin named them as: Zaporozhsky, who was jailed for 18 years in 2003 for passing secret information about Russian agents in the US.

Skripal, who was found guilty of passing secrets to Britain and sentenced to 13 years in 2006.

Sutyagin, who asserts his innocence after being sentenced to 15 years in 2004 on charges of passing information on nuclear submarines to a UK firm.

Gennady Vasilenko, who was sentenced in 2006 to three years in prison on murky charges over illegal weapons.