The Russian and US aircraft parked next to each other on the tarmac of Vienna airport and both took off within 15 minutes of the swap, well away from the media.
Although the Alps usually did not demarcate the provinces' political boundaries, they were often impassable.
Many inhabitants of Alpine valleys were thus isolated and developed their own distinct dialects, dress, folklore, and architecture, and could easily determine the origins of outsiders.
Modern mass media and mobility have diminished many of these distinctions. The 1998 population count was 8,078,449 (2000 estimate, 8,131,111), about 95 percent of whom were ethnic Austrian.
Eight years later, Austria's refusal to join most other EU nations in expelling Russian diplomats shows it once again wants to be the conduit for East-West mediation.
The exchange on July 9, 2010 could have been lifted from the pages of a spy novel, happening as it did in Vienna, the imperial city of waltzes and chocolate cake that was also a murky Cold War nest of spies.