Defence 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 later at a hearing in federal court.
Igor Sutyagin, a Russian arms control analyst serving a 14-year sentence for spying for the United States, had told his relatives he was going to be one of the 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 said she couldn’t 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 early on Thursday 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,” intelligence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said on Thursday.
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.|
Attorney Robert Baum, who represents defendant Anna Chapman, said the case might be settled when she and the others arrested in the US appear for arraignment on the indictment, raising the possibility of guilty pleas to the lowest charges and deportation. “Of certain events that might occur, the fact the indictment is minimal makes perfect sense,” said Robert J Krakow, an attorney for defendant Juan Lazaro.