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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia to Release U.S. Spy Suspect




A U.S. telecommunications engineer arrested and charged with espionage in Russia will be allowed to leave under an agreement with the Russian security service, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday.


State Department deputy spokesman James Foley said Richard Bliss' employer, the telecommunications company Qualcomm, and Russian security officials reached an agreement that would allow Bliss to depart for the United States possibly as early as Tuesday.


"We welcome his release," Foley said.


Bliss, 29, a field technician, was arrested Nov. 25 in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don while installing a wireless telecommunications system for the Russian company Rostovelektrosvyaz.


Interfax, quoting unidentified federal security officials, confirmed that Bliss would be allowed to go home for the holidays but could be called back to Russia if necessary. There were no other details.


One of Bliss' local attorneys said the technician was due to leave Russia late Tuesday night.


"He's flying out at 2300 hours," Valery Petrayev said by telephone from Rostov, where Bliss has been held since his arrest.


Petrayev said Bliss had been allowed home until Jan. 10, but might not be recalled then. He said the release was a sign that the Federal Security Service, or FSB, would not bring formal spying charges.


"They let him go for Christmas, New Year, until Jan. 10 for the moment, maybe longer. It depends on whether the FSB comes up with any evidence that he was spying," he said.


"Who sends a spy home for Christmas? It's funny!" Petrayev added.


He could not say how the decision to let Bliss go home had been made.


The State Department said Bliss would leave Rostov aboard a Qualcomm-chartered plane, and one official, who asked not to be identified, said he could depart "within a few hours."


Bliss spent 12 days in jail before being freed on the condition that he not leave Rostov. He was charged Dec. 5 with espionage and bringing equipment into Russia without proper documentation -- the first American to be formally charged with spying in Russia since the Soviet era.


Officials at Qualcomm, based in San Diego, California, did not return phone calls seeking comment on the report late Tuesday. The State Department and Qualcomm had steadfastly denied that Bliss was involved in espionage and warned Moscow that his arrest could deter American businesses from working in Russia.


Secretary of State Madeleine Albright discussed the case during


a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov in Brussels


last week. Vice President Al Gore also is reported to have intervened on behalf of Bliss.


There was some speculation in Moscow business circles that Bliss' arrest was orchestrated as part of a struggle among rivals for the lucrative cellular telecommunications market in Russia.


The U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Richard Collins, has described Bliss as a victim of outdated Russian laws that never envisaged the use of modern technology.


His release would be a sharp turnaround in the tough position previously taken on the case by the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.


"Bliss's guilt has been objectively proved," the agency's head, Nikolai Kovalyov, said Dec. 17. "While making a land survey he measured the terrain within an accuracy of three meters."


Under Russian law, such measurements accurate to within 30 meters are considered state secrets, Interfax quoted Kovalyov as saying.


Qualcomm has maintained that all the equipment used by Bliss was cleared with Russian customs officials and that even if filing mistakes had been made, there was no reason to charge Bliss with espionage.


Bliss is a native of Longview, Washington.