ROAR: “Sensational end of spy scandal”

Four Russian citizens convicted of espionage have been exchanged for ten alleged agents arrested in the US, in a swap deal that could enter the textbooks on how to solve such sensitive issues.

Prior to one of the largest swaps, which many consider to be a reemergence of Cold War-era practices, President Dmitry Medvedev pardoned Russian citizens Aleksandr Zaporozhsky, Gennady Vasilenko, Sergey Skripal and Igor Sutyagin. They had filed petitions for a presidential pardon, in which they acknowledged their guilt, Russian presidential press secretary Natalya Timakova said.

One of the four, Sutyagin, has been expelled to Britain in a swap deal. His relatives and lawyer had been the first to break the news about the possible swap of spies. They said he had to sign a confession of treason, but maintains his innocence.

The researcher at the Russian Institute for the USA and Canadian Studies was accused of espionage and detained in 1999. In 2004, he was sentenced by the Moscow City court to 15 years in prison.

The swap could become a milestone in the history of the secret services, believes Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of National Defense magazine. However, he expressed surprise because “Sutyagin is not [Gary] Powers.”

“Sutyagin had indirect contact with British special services and he was accused of the so-called ‘analytical espionage’,” Korotchenko told Rosbalt news agency. It was not a classic case of espionage, he added.

“Russia’s aspiration to take our illegal agents (as the FBI calls them) is understandable,” Korotchenko said. The US and their allies, first of all Britain, “may also be interested in freeing their agents, Russian citizens who were sentenced for espionage,” he noted.

“If a certain complex agreement is reached at the governmental level, one can say that a channel of secret consultations was used between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US Department of State,” the analyst said. He described the swap as “sensational”.

The exchange is “advantageous to Russia,” Korotchenko said, adding that Russian special services “have already got the information” about the Americans’ work methods.

A source close to the Constitutional Court told Rosbalt that in accordance with the constitution, Russia may not extradite their citizens. In this case “they may only obtain foreign citizenship.”

Spies for agents

However, Sutyagin “will retain Russian citizenship and will be able to travel around the world without restrictions,” Gazeta.ru online newspaper said, citing human rights activist and the secretary of a committee for protection of researchers Ernst Cherny.

Sutyagin’s lawyer Anna Stavitskaya said the scientist had to admit his guilt. “Judicially, everything will be arranged as if he asked to let him go to Britain,” she added.

“The Russian-American spy scandal is ending as sensationally as it began,” Kommersant daily wrote. Sutyagin had to admit his guilt and be swapped, it noted. “Otherwise Russia would not be able to return its spies, and the Western secret services – convicted agents,” the paper stressed.

Sutyagin’s mother Svetlana told the paper that she and other relatives were offered to visit him on July 7. According to her, “a general from the Federal Security Service (FSB) or SVR and American diplomats attended the meeting.”

One of the arguments for Sutyagin to write the confession was that if at least one of the participants of the deal between the special services refused to take part in the swap, it could be disrupted, the paper said.

The list of candidates for the exchange was sent by the US to Russia via diplomatic channels, Ernst Cherny told the paper. He claimed he had been able to briefly look at the list.

One man on the list, Sergey Skripal, is a former colonel with Russian military intelligence. In 2006, he was sentenced to 13 years in jail on charges of spying for Britain, the paper noted.

Sources in security services told the paper that the list also included “former employee of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Aleksandr Zaporozhsky, who was jailed for 18 years for espionage in 2003.”

The Russian and American authorities have been active recently, preparing the deal, Vremya Novostey daily said. However, Russia may become the hardest hit side in case of the swap, the paper said. Thus, Moscow will recognize those arrested in the US are “career intelligence officers” and “unfriendly espionage against the US was continuing,” the paper said.

However, the deal will help Moscow and Washington avoid “political demagogy” and the parties will consider what happened “as an objective inevitability,” the paper said. “According to this logic, the swap fits well in the framework of ‘the reset,’” it added.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT