Retired Russian colonel convicted of spying for U.S.

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MOSCOW — A retired Russian military officer has been convicted on charges of spying for the U.S. and sentenced to 12 years in prison, the counterintelligence agency said Thursday, the latest in a raft of espionage cases that come amid tensions between Moscow and Washington.

A court has ruled that retired Col. Vladimir Lazar will be sent to a high-security prison and stripped of his military rank, the Federal Security Service, or FSB, said in a statement.

Prosecutors said Lazar purchased several computer disks with more than 7,000 images of classified maps of Russia from a collector in 2008 and smuggled them to neighboring Belarus, where he gave them to an alleged American intelligence agent.

The FSB said the maps could be used for planning military operations against Russia. Lazar had served with the General Staff of the Russian armed forces in Moscow before his retirement in the early 2000s.

The FSB did not specify when the Moscow City Court’s verdict and sentence were handed down. Prosecutors first reported charges against Lazar in April. Russian state television broadcast brief footage from the courtroom, showing the gray-haired, bespectacled Lazar sitting in a cage.

Earlier this month, a court in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg handed an eight-year prison sentence to Alexander Gniteyev, a defense company worker accused of passing information about Russia’s latest missile, the Bulava, to a foreign intelligence agency.

And in February, Lt. Col. Vladimir Nesterets, who oversaw missile tests at the Plesetsk Launchpad in northern Russia, was convicted on charges of providing the CIA with secret information on new missiles and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

The series of spy trials come as U.S.-Russian relations have soured over U.S.-led NATO missile defense plans for Europe, which Moscow sees as a potential threat to its nuclear forces, and other disputes.

Vladimir Putin, re-elected to a third term in March, had taken a strongly anti-American posture during his campaign, accusing Washington of staging the mass protests against his 12-year rule in an effort to weaken Russia. He has snubbed the Group of Eight Summit in Chicago earlier this month, a move interpreted by many as an expression of his annoyance about the U.S.

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