Russian Couple's Spy Story Baffles All, Daughter Included

Who are you?
Who are you?
Elena Chernenko, Vladislav Trifonov and Ivan Safronov

They were sentenced to six-and-a-half and five-and-a-half years in prison in Germany, respectively. But their lawyer says that Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag are counting on a swift departure for Russia, as part of a spy exchange.

The trial of this couple ultimagely convicted of spying for Moscow started last January, and included a total of 36 witnesses who helped fill in different holes in the case. Then Anschlag's have stayed quiet for nearly the entire proceeding.

Andreas, 55, only spoke once, to go on a tirade about the poor conditions he was being held under, which he called “unworthy of the German government.”

The 52-year-old Heidrun, instead, broke into tears when the court presented the birth certificate of Anna, the couple’s 22-year-old daughter, as evidence. Anna Anschlag was born in Germany -- and clearly had no idea about her parents’ double life.

In giving her verdict, the judge stressed the fact that so many questions had remained unanswered. “We don’t know where they were born, what their real names are. Were they even a married couple before? Why did they start working in the special services? We don’t have any answers to these questions,” she said.

According to the evidence presented during the trial, the Anschlags were identified by the names of Pete and Tina, but in case of an emergency evacuation, they were supposed to call the Russian embassy and identify themselves as Sasha and Olga Rost.

Witnesses theorized that the Anschlags had come to Germany via Austria in the 1980s, under orders from the KGB. They had Austrian documents, probably acquired by bribing a passport official. Andreas Anschlag’s country of birth was listed as Argentina, and his wife’s country of birth was Peru -- which is how they explained their accented German.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, they continued working for the spy service. According to the investigators, Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag received respectively 4,300 and 4,000 euros per month, and had saved up nearly 700,000 euros. German law enforcement was never able to find the money.

The Anschlags never travelled in other parts of Germany, but in every other way their life didn’t seem to be any different from that of an ordinary German. At the moment of the arrest, Andreas worked for a branch of the Schunk Group, an international technology company. Heidrun was a stay-at-home mom.

There was only proof of espionage during the 2008-2011 period. “We have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg,” the judge said.

But that was enough to call the Russian couple “a serious threat to the national interests and security of Germany.”

Swap time?

One of the Anschlag’s informants was the Dutch diplomat Raymond Poeteray, who passed the couple hundreds of documents classified "Secret" or "Top Secret". The documents were about reforms in NATO, plans for a missile defense system, operations in Afghanistan and Libya and other sensitive military issues. The Anschlags paid him 72,000 euros for his trouble. Last April, Poeteray was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Dutch court.

The Germans found about about the Anschlags thanks to the FBI, which had uncovered a network of Russian spies in 2010. At that time, 10 of the Russians arrested in the United States were exchanged for four Russian citizens who had been spying for the West -- before they stood trial.

The Germans were prepared to exchange the Anschlags for two spies held by Russia before the trial as well, and the Berlin-based daily Die Welt reported that the topic was discussed by Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel during several face-to-face meetings, but that Moscow ultimately rejected the exchange.

The Russian President’s press secretary denies any knowledge of this report, and says that the two leaders had never discussed exchanging spies.

According to a source in the Russian special services, Russia wanted a trial to go forth in the hopes of finding out how much the FBI had told the Europeans.

It is still not clear who the Anschlags might be traded for, although one likely candidate might be Valerii Mikhailov, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for selling secrets to the United States.

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.

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