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.


French foreign minister bolsters Algeria ties in rare visit

Updated 21 January 2020

French foreign minister bolsters Algeria ties in rare visit

  • Le Drian’s visit came amid international efforts to resolve the conflict in Libya — a neighbor of Algeria — and crises in the Sahel
  • France and five Sahel nations — including three of Algeria’s immediate neighbors — pledged earlier this month to bolster efforts against extremists

ALGIERS: France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Tuesday, as the North African country’s former colonizer seeks to boost ties and defuse regional conflicts.
Tebboune, who came to power last month in a presidential election, received the first senior French government official to visit Algeria since the justice minister a year ago.
That visit came just before an unprecedented protest movement burst onto the scene, forcing longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down in April.
“The presidential elections took place. There is now a new government and France wants to work with it,” Le Drian said.
“President Tebboune has shown an ambition for Algeria — one of deep reform, to reinforce governance, the rule of law and freedoms,” he told reporters.
The Algerian leader’s vision also seeks “to revive the economy in accordance with the aspirations that Algerians have shown for the last year,” Le Drian said.
Tebboune, once a prime minister under Bouteflika, won the December election amid an official turnout of less than 40 percent.
Analysts believe voter participation was substantially lower, in a context where the Hirak protest movement viewed the election as a ploy by an unreformed elite to consolidate its power.
Le Drian’s visit came amid international efforts to resolve the conflict in Libya — a neighbor of Algeria — and crises in the Sahel.
Tebboune was among invitees to a summit on Libya held in Berlin on Sunday.
“We were together in Berlin, the day before yesterday, on Libya’s conflict and we will coordinate our efforts beyond even... a sustainable cease-fire” and recreating a political dialogue between Libya’s warring parties, Le Drian said.
“We will also take stock of the situation in the Sahel and recall our common objectives of security and fighting against terrorism,” he added.
France and five Sahel nations — including three of Algeria’s immediate neighbors — pledged earlier this month to bolster efforts against extremists waging an increasingly deadly insurgency.

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