MOSCOW – The Cold War-style intrigue over a reputed spy ring nabbed in the U.S. deepened Wednesday as word emerged of a possible scheme to swap Russians who hid in American suburbia for an imprisoned arms-control researcher and others who passed secrets to the U.S.
Dmitry Sutyagin says his brother Igor, who is serving a 14-year prison term, was told he is among convicted spies who are to be exchanged for Russians arrested by the FBI.
Officials from both the U.S. and Russia refused to comment on the claim, but Dmitry Sutyagin said his brother could be whisked off to Vienna and then to London for a planned exchange as early as Thursday.
In the U.S., American officials met with the Russian ambassador in Washington, and a hearing for three alleged spies was canceled in Virginia. They were ordered to New York along with two other alleged spies who waived their right to a local hearing in Boston.
The other five defendants were already in custody in New York.
Igor Sutyagin was told by Russian officials that he and other convicted spies are to be exchanged for the 10 Russians arrested by the FBI last month, his brother said. U.S. officials were also at the meeting held Monday at a prison in Arkhangelsk, in northwestern Russia, his brother said.
The spy swap, if confirmed, would continue a pattern of spy exchanges begun during the Cold War. In one of those most famous cases, downed U.S. U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was exchanged for KGB spy Col. Rudolph Abel in 1962.
Sutyagin said he was forced to sign a confession, although he maintains his innocence and does not want to leave Russia, his homeland, his brother said.
Sutyagin was transferred to Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, which is run by the main KGB successor agency.
“Regardless of this exchange, Sutyagin knows that he is not guilty, he did not commit those crimes, and for him it is very painful that he is accused of it and found guilty,” said his lawyer Anna Stavitskaya. “He is very upset that because of this situation his good name could be put in doubt.”
Sutyagin’s mother, Svetlana Sutyagina said that he also realized that rejecting the swap offer would mean keeping some of the alleged Russian spies in custody.
According to his brother, Sutyagin said the Russian officials had shown him a list of 11 people to be included in the swap. The brother said Sutyagin only remembered one other person on the list – Sergei Skripal – a colonel in the Russian military intelligence who in 2006 was sentenced to 13 years on charges of spying for Britain.
The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Federal Penitentiary Service said they had no comment on the claim, and a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy was not immediately available for comment.