Russian military researcher Igor Sutyagin, convicted of espionage in 2004, arrived in Vienna today in what may be the first stage of a spy swap with the U.S., a human rights activist said.
Sutyagin’s father received a call from Austrian television reporters who saw Sutyagin disembark from a plane in Vienna, where he was met by a British officer, Ernst Chyorny, head of the Public Committee to Protect Scientists, said by telephone today from Moscow. “There’s no official information,” he said.
Anna Stavitskaya, a lawyer for Sutyagin, said a Russian official met with her client this week in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison and told Sutyagin he was part of a plan to trade 11 Russian prisoners for people accused of spying in the U.S.
Ten alleged members of an a “long-term, deep-cover” Russian spy ring are scheduled to be arraigned on criminal charges later today in Manhattan federal court. Prosecutors have charged 11 people with conspiring to act as illegal agents of Russia in the U.S.
The U.K. government declined to comment on reports that the British are involved in the spy swap.
“It’s essentially a matter for the Americans,” Steve Field, Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, told reporters in London. “We wouldn’t comment on intelligence matters.”
Mark Toner, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said yesterday that the case was discussed at a meeting between William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He didn’t mention any results of the meeting.
Russian news website Gazeta.ru reported today that the meeting between Burns and Kislyak produced an exchange deal under which one U.S. spy suspect, Anna Chapman, will be delivered incognito to Moscow tonight. Gazeta.ru cited an unidentified diplomat familiar with the meeting.
Robert Baum, an attorney for Chapman, said yesterday that he was in talks with U.S. prosecutors on “a possible resolution” of the case. He also said Russian officials met Chapman on July 4, and two days later they discussed a possible swap with him.
David Siefkin, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Moscow, declined to comment on the case. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with ministry policy, declined to comment.
John Rodriguez, a lawyer for a second suspect, Vicky Pelaez, a columnist for the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario La Prensa in New York, said he also was contacted yesterday by Russian officials.
In an indictment unsealed in New York yesterday, 11 defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent of a foreign country. Nine also are charged with one count of conspiracy to launder money. The accusations are similar to those contained in two criminal complaints unsealed June 28 by prosecutors in the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Five defendants in custody in Massachusetts and northern Virginia were ordered transferred to New York for prosecution in the case yesterday. Five others are in custody in New York. An 11th member of the alleged ring, Christopher Metsos, was arrested in Cyprus and then fled after he was released June 29 on bail of 20,000 euros ($24,500).
Sutyagin said U.S. officials were present when the Russian official met with him to discuss the swap, though he didn’t speak with them, Stavitskaya told Ekho Moskvy radio yesterday. Stavitskaya confirmed the comments when contacted by Bloomberg News today and declined to elaborate. The U.S. has compiled a list of 11 Russian prisoners, including Sutyagin, who they wanted to swap, the lawyer said.
As part of the deal, Sutyagin, who has consistently maintained his innocence, was told to sign a document that included an admission of guilt. Sutyagin said the Russian official “made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” explaining that if any of the 11 people on the list declined to take part, the deal would fall through, according to his lawyer.
Stavitskaya stressed that Sutyagin had signed the admission of guilt under duress.
According to Sutyagin, Sergei Skripal, a former intelligence officer convicted of espionage, is also on the list of prisoners who may be exchanged, Stavitskaya said.
The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported today that the suspected spies in the U.S. may be flown to Russia today if the swap takes place.
Other Russian names on the list include Alexander Zaporozhsky, convicted in 2003 and sentenced to 18 years for espionage, and Alexander Sypachyov, identified as a CIA agent convicted in 2002, Kommersant reported, citing unidentified officials in the security services.