Just to keep abreast of the rapidly-moving spy swap story, which apparently may be finalized today: a report is out in the New York Times that jailed scientist Igor Sutyagin has been released, traveled it to Austria and called his father from Vienna. Meanwhile, Businessweek reports that it is apparently lucky Anna Chapman, the flame-haired face of the Russian spy circle, who will be received incognito tonight in Moscow in exchange. Mr Sutyagin’s lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, had this to say:
“If he is free, the United States could be thanked for one thing, for saving a person,” she said. “I am thankful to the United States, if it was the United States that included him on the list. If at last he is freed — not in the way we wanted, because we wanted him to restore his good name, but it is difficult to do it, given our judicial system — at least he will be freed in this way,” she said. “If he leaves today, it will happen quietly.”
Stavitskaya’s comments reflect the sense that today’s ‘spy swap’ bears little resemblance to the exchanges of yore (Cold War examples are to be found in abundance across today’s newspapers) and is a rather erroneous term for an instance of a political prisoner (albeit imprisoned on spying charges) being swapped for a deep cover ‘illegal’. It is doubtless a lucky day for the scientist, even if his conscience, as his lawyer suggests, will smart from accepting an admission of guilt. Could the US bargain for any other victims of Russia’s legal system? The Economist looks at what’s on the market for exchange:
Russia will have to ransack the spycatchers’ cupboard to find some more items to trade. The authorities have caught a few western intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover, such as the MI6 officers involved in the infamous “rock” incident but appear to have caught no western “illegals”. One reason for that may be that there aren’t any: western spy services find the idea of sending intelligence officers to live undercover in Russia for extended periods of time logistically formidable. Infiltrating people into the west is a lot easier.
The most likely “items” in a deal would be Russians caught spying forthe west. Top of the list may be Alexander Zaporozhsky, a formerRussian intelligence officer who moved to the United States in 1998. Hereturned to Russia in 2001, on an American passport, and was sentencedto 18 years for treason. Another Russian, Alexander Sypachyov, wasconvicted of spying for the CIA in 2002 for eight years but his lawyersays he does not wish to be traded. He would be due for release soon.
Given how closely British and American intelligence services cooperate, Russia may raid some other shelves.
Sergei Skripal, a retired intelligence officer was arrested in 2004 forspying for Britain and sentenced in 2006 to 13 years in jail.
Platon Obukhov, was arrested in 1996 for spying for Britain. He endedup in mental hospital, is no longer in custody but still subject tocompulsory psychiatric treatment.
Igor Vyalkov, an FSB officer, was sentenced in 2004 to 10 years forspying for Estonia, in a case that was linked at the time to Britishand American intelligence.
Even all these combined, perhaps with Andrei Dumenkov who was sentencedin August 2005 to a ten-year sentence for spying for Germany, thrownin, would not really match the American haul which appears to includefour full-blown “illegals”, the crown jewels of the intelligence world,as well as half a dozen others, mostly errand-runners and hangers-on.Russia’s spycatchers like to boast that they catch dozens of westernspies every year. Few of those cases are ever made public, leading someto wonder if they really exist. The events of the next few days willshow what else the Russian side has to offer–and how hard America iswilling to bargain for it.