The largest US – Russia spy swap since the Cold War took less than a month to materialize and ultimately found its place on a Vienna airport tarmac.
Two planes, one from the US and one from Moscow arrived within minutes of each other and parked nose to tail. Ten Russians sleeper agents arrested by the US and 4 prisoners accused of spying for the West were exchanged and then the planes deported again. The whole process took less than hour and a half.
About 1 month ago, the idea for exchange was brought to and agreed upon by President Obama for the Department of Justice. It was time to start planning arrests of the Russians. Washington decided the prisoners could be used better for barter than to be locked up for years as prisoners.
Thirteen days later, Obama hosted the Russian President for the first time. The two spent personal time together and showed great rapport that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Even though arrest preparations were moving forward, Obama kept quiet the entire time the Russian President was visiting.
Just days fololowing the June 27 arrests, CIA Director Leon Panetta provided Russian spy chief, Fradkev, with the names of four prisoners that the US wanted freed.
By the following Saturday, Panetta and Fradkov agreed to the deal by phone.
A flurry of government bureaucracy ensued and Russia got what they wanted; signed confessions from the four in order to make way for pardons from Medvedev. Court appearances and plea deals were quickly arranged in the US for the Russians.
A Very important condition of the swap was the deal not accompanying any retaliatory action against Americans.
Officials also said the US got everything it asked for out of the case.
Most of the underage children of all the agents had already been sent to Russia ahead of their parents.
Some touchy aspects remain unresolved. The bank master for the US spy ring is still a fugitive after jumping bail in Cyprus.
One thing was obvious: Both sides were eager to quickly resolve a matter that could have threatened the fragile US-Russia relationship.