Lithuania, Norway swap spies with Russia at border

Norwegian national Frode Berg was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison for espionage. (AP Photo)
Updated 15 November 2019

Lithuania, Norway swap spies with Russia at border

  • Lithuanian citizens Yevgeny Mataitis and Arstidas Tamosaitis and Norwegian citizen Frode Berg returned to Lithuania
  • Lithuania handed over the two pardoned Russians, Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergei Moisejenko in the exchange at a Lithuanian border crossing

VILNIUS: Russia on Friday returned two Lithuanians and a Norwegian convicted of espionage to Vilnius in a espionage swap that also saw NATO and EU member Lithuania free two Russians jailed for spying in an exchange reminiscent of the Cold War.
Tensions between Lithuania and Soviet-era master Russia grew after the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis in 2014, triggering a string of espionage allegations on both sides.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda first pardoned the two Russians jailed by Vilnius for spying, prompting Moscow to announce it would respond in kind.
“Today, at midday, the exchange operation was completed successfully,” Lithuanian intelligence chief Darius Jauniskis told reporters in Vilnius on Friday.
“Lithuanian citizens Yevgeny Mataitis and Arstidas Tamosaitis and Norwegian citizen Frode Berg successfully returned to Lithuania,” he said, adding that Berg was then transferred to the Norwegian embassy in the Lithuanian capital.
Jauniskis said Lithuania handed over the two pardoned Russians, Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergei Moisejenko in the exchange at a Lithuanian border crossing with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency director Sergei Naryshkin had told news agencies that Moscow would take “reciprocal measures” following Lithuania’s pardon.
Both Russians were sentenced by Lithuanian courts in 2017.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg hailed Berg’s release and thanked Lithuania for its “cooperation and efforts” in securing his freedom.
Ilya Novikov, Berg’s lawyer in Russia, tweeted on Friday that he was “on his way home, it’s over” but it remained unclear when he would return to Norway.
Nauseda’s decree said the Russians were pardoned in line with a new law on spy swaps.
Lithuanian officials said Filipchenko worked for the FSB Russian federal security service and was trying to recruit senior officials in the Baltic state.
He was sentenced to 10 years behind bars and did not appeal.
Moisejenko was jailed for 10 years and six months after a court ruled he recruited a Lithuanian army captain who served at the country’s Siauliai military air base. He had pleaded innocent.
The two Lithuanians were sentenced in Russia for allegedly sharing Russian military intelligence with Lithuania.
Moscow occupied and annexed Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia during World War II.
The trio only broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.
Tension including allegations of espionage between the Baltic states and Russia have simmered since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis in 2014.
Estonia and Russia swapped convicted spies last year, while in 2015, Russia freed Estonian officer Eston Kohver in a Cold War-style bridge handover.


Global coronavirus death toll passes one million

Updated 34 min 11 sec ago

Global coronavirus death toll passes one million

PARIS: More than one million people have died from the coronavirus, according to an AFP toll, with no let-up in a pandemic that has ravaged the world economy, inflamed diplomatic tensions and upended lives from Indian slums and Brazilian jungles to America’s biggest city.
Sports, live entertainment and international travel ground to a halt as fans, audiences and tourists were forced to stay at home under strict measures imposed to curb the contagion.
Drastic controls that put half of humanity — more than four billion people — under some form of lockdown by April at first slowed the spread, but since restrictions were eased, infections have soared again.
By 0630 GMT Monday, the disease had claimed 1,001,093 victims from 33,112,474 recorded infections, according to an AFP tally collected from official sources by journalists stationed around the world, and compiled by a dedicated team of data specialists.
The United States has the highest death toll with more than 200,000 fatalities, followed by Brazil, India, Mexico and Britain.
For Italian truck driver Carlo Chiodi, those figures include both his parents, whom he lost within days of each other.
“What I have a hard time accepting is that I saw my father walking out of the house, getting into the ambulance, and all I could say to him was ‘goodbye’,” Chiodi, 50, told AFP.
“I regret not saying ‘I love you’ and I regret not hugging him. That still hurts me.”


With scientists still racing to develop a vaccine, governments have again been forced into an uneasy balancing act: Virus controls slow the spread of the disease, but they hurt already reeling economies and businesses.
The IMF earlier this year warned that the economic upheaval could cause a “crisis like no other” as the world’s GDP collapsed, though the Fund’s outlook appears brighter now than it did in June.
Europe, hit hard by the first wave, is now facing another surge in cases, with Paris, London and Madrid all forced to introduce controls to slow infections threatening to overload hospitals.
Masks and social distancing in shops, cafes and public transport are now part of everyday life in many cities around the world.
Mid-September saw a record rise in cases in most regions and the World Health Organization has warned virus deaths could even double to two million without more global collective action.
Infections in India, home to 1.3 billion people, surged past six million on Monday, but authorities pressed ahead with a reopening of the battered South Asian economy.
Santosh, a creative writing student in India, said the virus was now “part of our lives.”
“You cannot shut down every business, because the economy cannot collapse... Covid-19 is not going to pay the rent.”


The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the illness known as Covid-19 made its first known appearance in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, ground zero of the outbreak.
How it got there is still unclear but scientists think it originated in bats and could have been transmitted to people via another mammal.
Wuhan was shut down in January as other countries looked on in disbelief at China’s draconian controls, even as they went about their business as usual.
By March 11, the virus had emerged in over 100 countries and the WHO declared a pandemic, expressing concern about the “alarming levels of inaction.”
Patrick Vogt, a family doctor in Mulhouse, a city that became the outbreak’s epicenter in France in March, said he realized coronavirus was everywhere when doctors started falling ill, some dying.
“We saw people in our surgery who had really big breathing problems, young and not-so-young who were exhausted,” he said. “We didn’t have any therapeutic solutions.”
Currently, nine vaccine candidates are in last-stage clinical trials, with hopes some will be rolled out next year.


The least privileged around the globe have been the hardest hit by the breakneck spread of the virus, which has also infected some among the powerful, rich and famous.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a week in hospital. Madonna and Tom Hanks also tested positive.
The Tokyo Olympics, Rio’s Carnival and the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah are among the major events postponed or disrupted by the pandemic.
Some major sports tournaments have resumed but with empty stadiums — such as Premier League football in England — or highly restricted spectator counts. The French Open is limiting access to 1,000 tennis fans a day.
As the restrictions tighten, protests and anger are rising as businesses worry about their survival and individuals grow frustrated about their jobs and families in the face of another round of lockdown measures.
Authorities have clashed with anti-lockdown protesters around the world. While many are reacting to economic pain, supporters of widely debunked conspiracy theories about the pandemic have also come out in the thousands from Melbourne to London.
Along with the turmoil, though, lies some hope, with Wuhan now appearing to have controlled the disease.
“Life has returned to the kind of flavour we had before,” resident An An said. “Everyone living in Wuhan feels at ease.”