News / Europe

Russia, US May Be Planning Spy Exchange

Alleged Russian spy suspects Patricia Mills and Michael Zottoli are seated (left foreground) in US federal court , 02 Jul 2010
Alleged Russian spy suspects Patricia Mills and Michael Zottoli are seated (left foreground) in US federal court , 02 Jul 2010
Gabe Joselow

Russia may be preparing to release a scientist jailed on charges of spying for the United States in exchange for the release of suspected Russian agents detained recently in the United States.  

The family of imprisoned Russian scientist Igor Sutyagin says he is being released as part of an exchange for members of the alleged Russian spy ring busted last month in the United States.

Sutyagin's brother says the American side proposed the swap.  But neither American nor Russian officials have confirmed the exchange.

People close to Sutyagin say he has already been moved from a prison in northern Russia to a jail in Moscow, and that he will eventually be sent to Britain.

His father, Vyacheslav Sutyagin, tells VOA that his son offered to sign a confession as part of the swap agreement.

His father has mixed feelings about this.  He says it is better to be free than to be in prison, but, he adds, his son was not a spy and has never pleaded guilty; so morally, this is a huge blow.

He also says he and his son both question whether having a good reputation is more important that freedom.

Sutyagin, a nuclear expert, formerly worked at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.  He was arrested in 1999 and charged with passing classified information to a British firm that Russian authorities say was a front for U.S. intelligence.

He was found guilty in 2004 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

It is not clear if Sutyagin would be swapped for all the detained suspects in the alleged Russian spy ring, or specific members.

U.S. authorities arrested 10 accused Russian agents last month.  Another was detained later in Cyprus, but fled after being released on bail.  The group had allegedly been operating in the United States for years, tasked with gathering information about American political activities.  They were charged with acting as unregistered foreign agents.

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