Russia Spy Who Inspired The Americans Is Dead

Mikhail Vasenkov reportedly died April 6 at age 79
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 22, 2022 12:17 PM CDT
Russia Spy Who Inspired The Americans Is Dead
A mug shot of Mikhail Anatolyevich Vasenkov.   (Wikimedia/US Marshals Service)

The most senior of 10 Russian spies unmasked in the US in 2010 in a case that inspired the TV show The Americans has died. Mikhail Vasenkov, who worked for years in secrecy in Yonkers, New York, died April 6 at the age of 79, according to an announcement from Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service. It credited the former sleeper agent with "creating and heading an illegal residency, which obtained valuable political information, which was highly appreciated," per the Moscow Times. However, Vasenkov and his wife, Vicky Pelaez, "neither collected nor delivered any secrets to Moscow," according to the New York Times.

Vasenkov was "the most senior" of the spy group—which also included Anna Chapman, Andrey Bezrukov, and Elena Vavilova—and at one time taught political science at Baruch College, per the Times. Trained in the foreign operations division of the Soviet KGB, he flew to Peru on a Uruguayan passport with the name Juan Jose Lazaro Fuentes in 1976 and gained Peruvian citizenship three years later. He reportedly married Uruguay native journalist Pelaez with the blessing of his handlers in 1983, two years before they moved to the US. He was caught instructing her on how to pass communications to agents in Peru and also complaining that his handlers "say my information is of no value," per the Times.

Though Pelaez insisted she didn't know her husband was a spy until his arrest, she pleaded guilty to failing to register as an agent of a foreign government alongside him. They were then released to Moscow as part of a prisoner swap and soon after returned to Peru. The couple's son, 17 at the time of their arrest, remained in New York, where he still lives, per the Times. Pelaez's stepson from a previous relationship, 38 at the time of their arrest, also remained in the US though he now lives with his mother in Peru, according to her lawyer. It's unclear where Vasenkov died. The Times notes he was in Moscow at the time of a December 2020 interview. A cause of death was not provided. (More Russian spies stories.)

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