Russia-US spy swap plan was almost shelved, say Russian media

Igor Sutyagin

Igor Sutyagin

The unprecedented spy exchange between Russia and the United States nearly failed, after American and Russian planners came across several unforeseen problems during the run-up to the swap. Moscow-based daily newspaper Moskovsky Komzomolez cited a confidential source in Russian intelligence, who said that Washington almost cancelled the exchange deal in the early hours of July 9. This was after Russian media published the names of the four jailed Russian citizens who were to be given up by Moscow, in exchange for the ten Russian deep-cover spies arrested by the FBI in several US cities in June. The agreement almost came to a standstill again a few hours later, after Russian nuclear weapons expert Igor Sutyagin refused to officially admit guilt, a step that was required for the planned exchange to take place. The Russian scientist, who chaired a division in the Russian Academy of Sciences’ USA and Canada Institute, was serving a 15-year sentence for allegedly passing state secrets to a foreign company that was a front for the CIA. But, according to Moskovsky Komzomolez, Sutyagin, who throughout his trial refused to admit that he worked as a foreign agent, initially told Russian intelligence agents that he would never sign a confession of espionage. Later on, however, he recanted his stance, after he was told that he could only be sent to the United States if he conceded to having worked as an agent of the CIA. Sutyagin then proceeded to “reluctantly” sign the confession document, according to Moskovsky Komzomolez . A few hours later, the weapons expert found himself in a non-descript London hotel, still in his prison clothes, and under the custody of the British and American governments.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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