Chapman betrayer is sentenced

FLEEING his homeland in fear of arrest for the biggest betrayal suffered by Russia's spy service since the Cold War, Colonel Alexander Poteyev typed into his mobile phone: "Mary, try to take this calmly. I am leaving not for a short time but forever."

Poteyev's farewell message to his wife was read out yesterday to a Moscow military court that convicted him in absentia of betraying ten agents in the United States.

"I did not want this but I had to. I am starting a new life," Poteyev continued. "I shall try to help the children."

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The unmasking of the Russian spy ring, just days after President Dmitry Medvedev's Washington summit with Barack Obama, was a major embarrassment for the Kremlin, which has sought to improve ties with the US.

Anna Chapman, who became a media sensation on her release in a spy swap, testified that she recognised Poteyev from a photograph as the man who betrayed her and other "sleepers".

A military judge said Poteyev, a colonel in Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for passing details about how Moscow finances and communicates with its spies working abroad to the US Central Intelligence Agency. He was sentenced to an additional five years for desertion.

Poteyev, who had received state awards including a medal for "impeccable service", fled Russia for the US via Belarus.