MOSCOW // The largest Russia-US spy swap since the Cold War appears to be in motion, with a Russian convicted of spying for the United States reportedly plucked from a Moscow prison and flown to Vienna. Defense lawyers in New York say they expect an immediate resolution for their 10 clients charged with spying in the United States. A swap would have significant consequences for efforts between Washington and Moscow to repair ties chilled by a deepening atmosphere of suspicion.
Ten people accused of spying for Russia were set to go before a New York judge today at a hearing in federal court. An 11th person charged in the case is a fugitive after jumping bail in Cyprus. Igor Sutyagin, a Russian arms control analyst serving a 14-year sentenced for spying for the United States, had told his relatives he was going to be one of 11 convicted spies in Russia who would be freed in exchange for 11 people charged in the United States with being Russian agents. They said he was going to be sent to Vienna, then London.
In Moscow, his lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, said a journalist called Igor Sutyagin's family to inform them that Sutyagin was seen walking off a plane in Vienna on Thursday. However, she could not get confirmation of that claim from Russian authorities. Russian and US officials have refused to comment on any possible swap. Special riot police had beefed up security around Moscow's Lefortovo prison earlier today and a gaggle of TV cameras and photographers jostled for the best position to see what was going on. A convoy of armored vehicles arrived at the prison, thought to be the central gathering point for people convicted of spying for the West, including Sutyagin.
Police cars and prison trucks left the prison all morning but it was unclear if they carried any passengers. "A swap seems very much on the cards. There is political will on both sides, and actually by even moving it as far as they have, Moscow has de facto acknowledged that these guys were spies," the intelligence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said.
Five suspects charged with spying in the US were hurriedly ordered to New York on Wednesday, joining five others already behind bars there, after Sutyagin was transferred from a forlorn penal colony near the Arctic Circle and spilled the news of the swap. Dmitry Sutyagin said his brother remembered only one other person on the Russian list of spies to be exchanged - Sergei Skripal, a colonel in Russian military intelligence who in 2006 was sentenced to 13 years on charges of spying for Britain. A spokesman for the British Prime Minister David Cameron would not confirm or deny a possible London tie to the spy swap. "This is primarily an issue for the US authorities," Steve Field said. But defense lawyers in Moscow and New York have expressed confidence that their clients' fates would be settled very soon. In a federal indictment unsealed on Wednesday, the 10 suspects in New York and an 11th person, who was released on bail by a court in Cyprus and is now a fugitive, were formally charged. The indictment charged all with conspiring to act as secret agents and charged nine of them with conspiracy to commit money laundering. It demanded that those accused of money laundering return any assets used in the offense. Robert Baum, the attorney representing one of the accused spies, Anna Chapman, said the case might be settled when she and the other nine people arrested in the United States appear Thursday for arraignment on the indictment, raising the possibility of guilty pleas to the lowest charges and deportation from the US.
Sutyagin, who worked as an arms control and military analyst at the Moscow-based USA and Canada Institute, a think tank, was arrested in 1999 and convicted in 2004 on charges of passing information on nuclear submarines and other weapons to a British company that investigators claimed was a CIA cover. He has all along denied that he was spying, saying the information he provided was available from open sources. His case was one of several incidents of Russian academics and scientists being targeted by Russia's Federal Security Service and accused of misusing classified information, revealing state secrets or, in some cases, espionage. * Associated Press
The alleged acts of the accused, as laid out in the indictment, include: ? On January 14 2000, in a South American country, Vicky Pelaez received a package containing money from a representative of the Russian government. ? On May 16 2004, in Queens, New York, Christopher Metsos received a bag, containing money, from an official associated with the Manhattan-based Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations. ? On June 20 2004, in Manhattan, New York, the defendants Richard Murphy and Michael Zottoli met and exchanged money that had been received from Christopher Metsos.
? On September 23 2004, in Hoboken, New Jersey, Cynthia Murphy advised Richard Murphy as to how he could effectively gather information in the US for provision to Moscow Centre. ? During 2004 Donald Howard Heathfield met with an employee of the US government with regard to nuclear weapons research. ? On October 3 2004, Tracey Lee Ann Foley discussed with Donald Howard Heathfield a method for sending secret messages to Moscow Centre.
? On June 8 2006, Patricia Mills travelled to the vicinity of Wurtsboro, New York, with Michael Zottoli, where Zottoli dug up a package containing money that had been buried in the ground by Christopher Metsos. ? On August 25 2007, Juan Lazaro, in a South American country, received a package containing money from a representative of the Russian government. ? On September 26 2009, in Brooklyn New York, Richard Murphy gave Michael Zottoli money that he had received from an official associated with the Russian Mission.
? On June 5 2010, in Washington, Mikhail Semenko went to a meeting with a Russian government official. ? On June 16 2010, in New York, Anna Chapman transmitted data to a Russian government official through a wireless network. * Agence France-Presse