The 10 Russian spies deported from the US this summer have surfaced on a joint holiday at Lake Baikal in Siberia.
Among them were the redhead Anna Chapman, and Juan Lazaro – real name Mikhail Vasenkov – who recent reports have suggested was the senior figure in the spy ring.
It is the first time that the spies have been pictured together since their deportation from America in July, and the first time that most of them have been seen in public at all. The spies stayed in a luxury hotel in Listvyanka, a village on the shores of the vast Lake Baikal.
A source at the hotel told the Life News website that the former spies went on diving excursions to the bottom of Baikal, which is the world's deepest lake, and were treated to local delicacies. Only Ms Chapman ate little, according to hotel staff, and was also subdued and quiet during the trip. In the pictures, Ms Chapman wears a black and white shell suit, with her hair tied back in a pony tail, and looks a far cry from the glamorous femme fatale image she has tried to foster with racy photo shoots.
Only Ms Chapman, who seems to be attempting to launch a showbiz career, has appeared in public since the swap. She has become a frequent guest at parties and events in Moscow, and has posed for a series of magazine photo shoots, amid rumours that she wants to launch a television career. But she has said she is not allowed to talk about her time in the US.
Hotel staff said that many of the spies spoke Russian with an accent, and that one spoke no Russian at all. This would have been Vicky Pelaez, the Peruvian national who worked in New York for a Spanish-language daily and was married to Mr Vasenkov. It is believed that she did not know her husband's true identity, and she had previously stated that she wanted to return to Peru. However, the photograph of her at the Baikal retreat suggests that she has either changed her mind, or been forced to stay in Russia.
A recent report by Russia's Kommersant newspaper said that Mr Vasenkov had an espionage career that had spanned several decades spent in Latin American countries as well as the US. He posed as Juan Lazaro, a photographer and researcher, and the report claimed that he sustained injuries from US agents trying to get information out of him.
Even though they have kept a low profile, since their return to Russia the spies have been lauded as heroes, receiving top awards from President Dmitry Medvedev.
The Kommersant report said the spies had been betrayed by a top official in Russia's foreign intelligence service, the SVR, named Colonel Shcherbakov. It later transpired that there had indeed been an agent of that name who defected to the United States, but that his defection had taken place years ago. The traitor in this instance is now believed to be a man with a similar biography named Colonel Alexander Poteyev. He is believed to have fled across the Atlantic just days before the 10 agents were arrested in June. He was reportedly the deputy director of a unit that handled illegal agents inside the US.
Colonel Poteyev is a veteran of the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, and was later placed as an SVR agent in New York. The SVR has not given any official comment on any of the rumours, but President Medvedev confirmed that the initial Kommersant story was largely true.
A Kremlin source told the newspaper that a team of assassins had been sent to kill the traitor.Reuse content