MOSCOW – President Dmitry Medvedev bestowed the country's highest state honor Monday on the Russian sleeper agents deported from the United States as part of the countries' biggest spy swap since the Cold War, the Interfax news agency reported.
The awards were handed out at a Kremlin ceremony less than four months after the exchange, the agency quoted Medvedev spokeswoman Natalya Timakova as saying. No other details on the ceremony were available and Kremlin spokespeople were not immediately reachable.
In June, 10 Russian agents who infiltrated suburban America were deported in exchange for four people convicted in Russia of spying for the West.
The spies received a hero's welcome in Russia, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin leading them in a patriotic singalong in July.
The most famous of the agents, Anna Chapman, visited the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan this month for the launch of a Russian spaceship, fueling her celebrity in Russia and abroad.
Chapman was in Baikonur ostensibly as the new celebrity face of a Moscow bank.
FondServisBank, which works with Russian companies in the aerospace industry, said it had hired Chapman to bring innovation to its information technologies.
It did not escape Russians' attention that the initials of the bank, FSB, are the same as Russia's main spy agency.
Although Russia has now reportedly given the spies the country's top state honor, the U.S. court complaint against the flame-haired Chapman and her alleged cohorts described their many spying blunders, leading to some embarrassing coverage for Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service in the Western press.
Putin, who served as a spy in East Germany before going into politics, said in July that he had met with the spies to celebrate their return and warned that the "traitors" who exposed them could end up "in a ditch."
Russia and the United States have both said the spy scandal would not interfere with the improving tone in their relations.