The lawyer for a scientist imprisoned for espionage in Russia says he has been released, in what may be the first move in a spy exchange with the United States. However, there are conflicting reports on the whereabouts of the scientist, Igor Sutyagin.
His family says his release is part of an exchange for suspected Russian agents detained last month in the United States in a high-profile case.
Neither U.S. nor Russian officials have confirmed the reports.
Sergei Markov, a deputy in the Russian State Duma from the ruling United Russia party, said he has heard the rumors of an exchange.
He tells VOA that if such a thing occurs, it represents a kind of confession from both the United States and Russia.
"I think most important is that by exchange, both sides recognize that those arrested people - they are spies," said Sergei Markov.
Sutyagin was serving a 15-year prison sentence, after being convicted of sending classified information to a British firm that Russian authorities said was a front for U.S. intelligence.
He and his family have repeatedly denied his guilt. His case has been championed by human rights groups who say he was unfairly persecuted by the government.
But Markov says the United States has already confirmed he was a spy.
"It was a very big shock for some of the Russian human rights activists who protected Sutyagin for many years, repeating many times that he is, you know, a scientist who is being arrested by the KGB, by Putin, Putin is oppressing science and so forth," he said.
Meantime, the ten members of the alleged Russian spy ring operating in the United States are charged with conspiring to act as unregistered foreign agents. They are accused of seeking to infiltrate U.S. policy-making circles and to gather information on U.S. political affairs. Nine of them are also charged with money laundering.
An eleventh suspect was detained briefly in Cyprus, but went missing after being released on bail.