MOSCOW (AP) — Russia and the United States are working out a spy swap involving Russians recently arrested in the United States and people convicted of spying in Russia, the brother of an imprisoned nuclear researcher said Wednesday.
Officials from both the United States and Russia refused to comment on the report but Dmitry Sutyagin said he had plenty of details on the swap from his brother Igor, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence on charges of spying for the United States.
In addition, there were signs in the United States that something might be under way. A bail hearing for three purported spies was canceled in Virginia, U.S. officials were meeting with the Russian ambassador in Washington, and two other purported spies waived their right to a local hearing in Boston and were being sent to 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.
Sutyagin said he is to be flown to Vienna and then to London Thursday for a planned exchange, according to his brother and his lawyer.
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. After the meeting, Sutyagin was transferred to Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.
Sutyagin was arrested in 1999 and convicted in 2004 on charges of passing information on nuclear submarines and missile-warning systems to a British company that investigators claimed was a CIA cover.
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 Russian army colonel 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.
In Washington, both FBI spokesman William Carter and the State Department declined to comment. However, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, a former American ambassador to Moscow, had a Wednesday meeting scheduled with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Officials declined to comment on the reason for the meeting.
The spy swap, if confirmed, would continue a pattern of spy exchanges began 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 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.
The United States arrested 10 people on June 27 and charged them with being in an alleged spy ring that trying to obtain information about American business, scientific and political affairs. Prosecutors say for the last decade the alleged spies engaged in secret global travel with false passports, secret code words, fake names, invisible ink and encrypted radio.
They have been charged with acting as unregistered foreign agents.
All of those arrested in the U.S. are still being detained and the U.S. government has opposed granting them bail. Anna Chapman, 28, was denied bail. U.S. citizen Vicky Pelaez was granted $250,000 bail with electronic monitoring and home detention but the government is appealing the decision.
A scheduled Wednesday court hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, was postponed for three suspects in the Russia spying case — Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills and Mikhail Semenko — according to defense lawyer Daniel Lopez, who represents Semenko. Lopez refused to elaborate.
At another U.S. hearing on Wednesday, a Boston-area couple in the case — Donald Heathfield and his wife, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, of Cambridge, Mass. —waived their right to identity and detention hearings in Boston and will go to New York to answer the spy charges.
An 11th suspect in the spy ring, Christopher Metsos, was arrested in Cyprus last week, but disappeared after being released on bail, triggering a manhunt by embarrassed Cypriot authorities.