Mikhail Vasenkov, the Russian spy who inspired ‘The Americans’, dies at 79

A former Russian sleeper agent who spent years living in Westchester County before being arrested in a spy operation that inspired ‘The Americans’ TV show has died, according to a new report. He was 79 years old.

Mikhail Vasenkov was one of 10 agents living undercover in the United States who were arrested in 2010 and then deported in a widely reported spy swap with Russia.

Vasenkov’s death on April 6 was announced by Russia’s foreign intelligence service earlier that month, but no cause was given.

The service praised Vasenkov for “creating and running an illegal residence, which obtained valuable political information, which was highly appreciated,” according to a translation by the Moscow Times.

The notice said the spy had served in the PGU KGB special reserve in Soviet Russia and reached the rank of colonel in 2005, when he reached the age of termination of military service.

It was six years before he was arrested while living with his family in Yonkers and teaching as an assistant professor of political science at Baruch College. Using the name Juan Lazaro, the spy claimed to be born in Uruguay and a Peruvian citizen.

He had met his wife, journalist Vicky Pelaez, in Peru in the 1980s. The couple were arrested alongside infamous spy Anna Chapman and others, then sent to Russia in an exchange with four people who had been convicted of spying for the United States.

Vasenkov, under the name of Juan Lazaro, and his wife were arrested along with four other people for espionage.
Sara Gernsbacher

Vasenkov and his wife moved to Peru in 2013, according to the Times.

The FX show “The Americans,” which told the story of spies living in the suburbs, was inspired by the situation.

“That was absolutely the inspiration for the show,” the show’s executive producer, Joseph Weisberg, told Time Magazine in 2013.

The former home of spies Vicky Pelaez and Juan Lazaro in Westchester.
Vasenkov was living with his family in Yonkers and teaching as an assistant professor of political science at Baruch College at the time of his arrest.
Robert Kalfus

“These spies are called ‘illegals’, a type of spy that is somewhat unique to the Russian intelligence service. They were the spies who lived among us. Some pulled off some real notable espionage, but more often than not they would come in, open a business, and try to get a cover.

Vasenkov’s cover even convinced his stepson.

“I still believe Juan Lazaro is from Uruguay,” Waldo Mariscal said after the arrest. “I’ve never seen him speak in Russian…I don’t know where that name comes from.”

New York Post

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