U.S., Rus­sia ap­pear poised to swap ac­cused spies

Mother of de­tained physi­cist says he’s part of se­cret ne­go­ti­a­tions

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Ken Di­la­nian and Sergei L. Loiko

WASHINGTON — Across a vast global chess­board, the pieces were set in mo­tion Wed­nes­day.

In Moscow, Igor Sutya­gin, an im­pris­oned physi­cist, was taken from a prison camp near the Arc­tic cir­cle to the high-se­cu­rity Le­for­tovo prison and ush­ered into a room to meet with a gen­eral from the Rus­sian se­cu­rity ser­vices and three U.S. di­plo­mats.

On the other side of the world, five al­leged Rus­sian spies due in U.S. fed­eral courts Wed­nes­day in Bos­ton and Vir­ginia were in­stead trans­ferred to New York to join five other sus­pected spies held there.

The moves ap­peared to fore­shadow an­other twist in the al­ready in­trigue-laden case of the 10 ac­cused deep cover agents for Rus­sia: pos­si­bly the largest U.S.-Rus­sia spy swap in 25 years.

The mother of Sutya­gin, a Rus­sian sci­en­tist con­victed in 2004 of spying for the U.S., said that her son was hastily trans­ported to Moscow from the Arkhangelsk prison camp and told that if he con­fessed to spying, he would be among 10 peo­ple ex­changed “for the 10 Rus­sians re­cently ar­rested in the United States.”

“He was told that he and nine other pris­on­ers will be ex­changed,” said Svet­lana Sutyag­ina, not­ing that her son still in­sists he is in­no­cent. “If he agreed, Igor was told he would have to sign a doc­u­ment, which among other things con­tained a para­graph where Igor was to con­fess of spying, which he never did be­fore.”

“Un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, my son would have never done that,” she said. “But Igor was in such a state of shock that he signed the doc­u­ment.”

Sutyag­ina was al­lowed to meet with her son Wed­nes­day morn­ing, and he told her that au­thor­i­ties said he would be flown from Moscow to Vi­enna and then on to London. The spy ex­change would take place there, he said.

In the U.S., lawyers for the ac­cused would say only that talks with fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors were on­go­ing.

“We are in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the govern­ment, and they’re of a sen­si­tive na­ture, and we’re not go­ing to com­ment on them,” said Fiona Doherty, a lawyer rep­re­sent­ing Anna Chap­man, the young Rus­sian red­head who has been fod­der for tabloid news­pa­pers.

“I can’t say any­thing pub­licly about it right now,” said Charles Burn­ham, a lawyer for ac­cused spy Pa­tri­cia Mills.

The 10 spying sus­pects were of­fi­cially charged in a fed­eral in­dict­ment un­sealed in New York on Wed­nes­day of try­ing to se­cretly gather in­for­ma­tion for Rus­sia. An 11th sus­pect, Christo­pher Met­sos, was ar­rested in Cyprus last week but dis­ap­peared af­ter be­ing re­leased on bail.

Ar­raign­ment for the 10 de­fen­dants in cus­tody was sched­uled for this af­ter­noon in New York be­fore U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood.

As ru­mors of a spy swap rip­pled Wed­nes­day across Moscow and Washington, both gov­ern­ments clammed up. State Depart­ment spokesman Mark Toner would only con­firm that a high-rank­ing U.S. diplo­mat, Wil­liam Burns, had dis­cussed the spy case with Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak. He re­ferred fur­ther ques­tions to the Jus­tice Depart­ment, where spokesman Dean Boyd de­clined to com­ment.

“I have noth­ing for you on that,” Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion spokesman Robert Gibbs told re­porters at the White House.

The likely spy swap would be the largest since 1985, when the U.S. freed four East­ern Euro­peans charged with es­pi­onage in ex­change for 25 East­ern Euro­peans held pris­oner in East Ger­many and Poland.

In one of the most fa­mous trades, downed Amer­i­can U-2 spy plane pi­lot Francis Gary Pow­ers was ex­changed for KGB spy Col. Rudolph Abel in 1962.

Some com­men­ta­tors Wed­nes­day hailed the re­ports of an im­pend­ing spy swap as a sign of im­prove­ment in U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tions.

“On the one hand, if the deal is re­ally in the works, that will be the Krem­lin’s con­fir­ma­tion that these peo­ple were ful­fill­ing some spe­cial tasks in the United States in fa­vor of Rus­sia,” said An­drei Kor­tunov, pres­i­dent of New Eura­sia Foun­da­tion, a Moscow-based think tank.

“On the other hand, that means that both sides want to hush up the af­fair quickly and thus demon­strate that both Moscow and Washington are ready to leave the spy scan­dal be­hind them and con­tinue to de­velop the pos­i­tive trend in their re­la­tion­ship,” Kor­tunov said.

Alexan­der Zemlianichenko aS­SO­Ci­aTeD PreSS

Rus­sians walk Wed­nes­day by Moscow’s Le­for­tovo prison, where Igor Sutya­gin, con­victed of spying for the West, awaited a swap of ac­cused spies.

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