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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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Migrant Lives

The Damning Proof Of Migrants Tortured In Libya — And Italy's Complicity

The Refugees in Libya movement has posted shocking images to awaken our consciences. But here, all is silent, and the hope for humanity is entrusted to a Europe that is reborn from the bottom up.

Aereal photograph of Staff members of the desert patrols of the Libyan Illegal Immigration Control Department and some stranded African migrants at the Libya-Tunisia border

Staff members of the desert patrols of the Libyan Illegal Immigration Control Department and some stranded African migrants are seen at the Libya-Tunisia border

Mattia Ferrari


TURIN — "Let me die."

These were the desperate words of yet another migrant tortured by the Libyan mafia. Like many others from sub-Saharan Africa, this teenager had to leave his homeland wrecked by global apathy and injustice. And like many others, he ended up in the hands of a local criminal organization, who imprisoned him in one of the notorious camps in the Libyan town of Bani Walid.

We know of his fate from videos of his torture, which were shot in order to extort ransom from his family back home. A social movement led by the migrants, "Refugees in Libya," has been sharing this footage in hopes of awakening Europe's conscience.

But on this side of the Mediterranean, all is silent.

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