US, Russia plan spy prisoner swap: lawyer

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Russia and the United States are planning a dramatic Cold War-style prisoner exchange that would free members of the alleged Kremlin spy ring for a Russian detainee, a lawyer claimed Wednesday.

Russian lawyer Anna Stavitskaya said her client Igor Sutyagin, jailed in 2004 on charges of spying for the United States, had been told he would be released as part of the swap.

There was no confirmation or denial from any Russian official of the claim, which came as it was announced cases of some of the alleged Kremlin agents detained in the United States were being sent to New York.

"He is going to be exchanged for the people who are being accused of espionage in the United States," Stavitskaya told a news conference.

Russian arms expert Sutyagin was convicted in 2004 of handing over classified information to the United States, via a British security company that Russia claimed was a CIA cover, and sentenced to 15 years in jail.

Sutyagin's brother Dmitry told the same news conference that Sutyagin would be transferred to Vienna, from where he would fly on to London.

A former spokesman for the Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Yury Kobaladze, told Echo of Moscow radio that an exchange would be a "wonderful way out of a very complex situation."

But ex-head of the FSB internal security service, Nikolai Kovalev, poured scorn on the idea. "A person who had been forgotten reminded us of his existence," he told the RIA Novosti news agency.

Exchanges of captured agents between Western and Eastern powers were a regular tactic in the Cold War, sometimes on the Glienicke Bridge between East and West Germany.

However no such manoeuvre has been hinted at by either side at on official level in public on this occasion.

The claims surfaced as a judge in Alexandria, Virginia ordered that the case of three alleged members of the undercover Russian spy ring should be transferred from a Virginia court to New York.

Shortly afterwards, a US official said two alleged members of the spy ring are to be "promptly" transferred from Boston to New York to face charges, adding the defendants requested the move.

The defendants are among 10 alleged Russian "deep cover" sleeper agents arrested on June 27 in an FBI swoop.

An 11th suspect, accused Kremlin paymaster Christopher Metsos, was arrested in Cyprus the following day but freed on bail and subsequently vanished.

Dmitry Sutyagin said that his brother had told the family that the suggestion from the exchange had come from the American side.

"The Americans presented a list of people for whom they were ready to exchange the people detained in America accused of espionage. Igor was among them."

Sutyagin met his mother and brother earlier Wednesday after officials at Moscow's Lefortovo prison called to arrange a visit, they said.

He had been transferred to Moscow from his prison in the Russian Far North earlier this week, they added.

Meanwhile, Russian woman Anna Chapman, arrested by the United States on suspicion of being part of the spy ring and branded by the media as a flame-haired femme fatale is "no Mata Hari" but an average young woman, her mother said.

"I don't think Anna is a Mata Hari. She had the normal life of a 28-year-old woman," Kushchenko said, referring to the Dutch exotic dancer executed by the French for espionage during World War One.

"As an ex-teacher, I can say she never quite shined among her peers. But she was good, close to the top of her class."

Anna Chapman's ex-husband Alex has alleged in interviews with the British press that she was recruited by her father, Vasily Kushchenko, who he said posed as a Russian diplomat but was in fact a KGB agent.

© 2010 AFP

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