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Deported Russian Spy-Swap Researcher May Return Home

Igor Sutyagin, a Russian arms expert convicted of espionage in 2004, may return home after he was deported to England in a spy swap with the U.S. last week, a former colleague said.

“He needs to get his health back first, but I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t return to Russia,” Pavel Podvig, an independent arms researcher, said by telephone from Geneva today. “He has Russian citizenship, his wife and daughters are in Russia and he has been pardoned by the president. And he has always been very patriotic.”

Sutyagin consistently maintained his innocence of spying for the U.S. and U.K. As part of the July 9 swap, he admitted his guilt and was subsequently pardoned by President Dmitry Medvedev. His lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, said the admission was made under duress.

In the swap, carried out at a Vienna airport, Sutyagin and three other convicted spies were exchanged for 10 alleged members of a Russian spy ring in the U.S. who pled guilty in New York to the lesser charge of conspiring to act as unregistered foreign agents. Russia’s Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department hailed the swift resolution of the spy scandal as evidence of improved ties between the two countries.

‘Stress Test’

“This spy scandal allowed us and the Americans to test ourselves in what you could call almost combat conditions,” Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the International Affairs Committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, said today. “We passed this stress test on an entirely mutual basis without any shocks.”

Sutyagin’s brother, Dmitry, said by telephone today that he had no fresh information. “He won’t be able to do anything until tomorrow. Things could change tomorrow.”

Russian human rights activist Ernst Chyorny said Sutyagin is staying in a hotel near London, has no “immediate plans” and is trying to figure out what to do next. He was given a telephone card and allowed to call his parents once, Chyorny, head of the Public Committee to Protect Scientists, said by telephone from Moscow today.

Sutyagin was assured by officials in a meeting at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison before the spy swap that he wouldn’t be stripped of Russian citizenship and could return home “after a certain time,” Stavitskaya said last week.

U.K. officials should complete paperwork today authorizing Sutyagin to be present in the country, Chyorny said.

“It’s very positive” that Russian scientists were able to lobby the U.S. government and human rights organizations to get Sutyagin out of jail, said Podvig, a former research associate at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. “We still have a lot of people in jail on similar charges, but his name got on the right list at the right time.”

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