Lawyer Says Swap With Russia Is Expected Soon

OSCOW — The lawyer for an imprisoned Russian scientist, Igor V. Sutyagin, said on Thursday that she expected him to be freed by the end of the day, probably through a prisoner exchange in Britain, but that his departure would take place under conditions of complete secrecy.
The reported exchange was not confirmed by Russian or American officials.

The lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, said Mr. Sutyagin had verbally agreed to an exchange during a meeting with Russian officials who he believed were from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, or S.V.R., and that Americans had also been present at the meeting.

Her comments followed reports from Washington on Wednesday that just days after the F.B.I.’s sensational dismantling of a Russian spy ring, the American and Russian authorities were negotiating an exchange of some or all of the 10 accused agents for prisoners held in Russia, including Mr. Sutyagin.

“Probably he will be free today, this is the most important thing,” said Ms. Stavitskaya, who said she had heard nothing from Russian officials. She said Mr. Sutyagin had consistently denied spying for the United States, for which he was sentenced to a 14-year term, but this week signed a document admitting guilt.

“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.”

Mr. Sutyagin said he was told the exchange would take place in Britain, and that he would be transported through Vienna. In the past, Ms. Stavitskaya said, such exchanges have taken place under such conditions of secrecy that even close relatives were not informed until after the accused had been freed.

Though American officials in Washington were close-mouthed, they confirmed the talks on Wednesday.

“I feel our discussions will probably be resolved by tomorrow one way or another,” said the lawyer, Robert M. Baum. Another defense lawyer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it was possible that many of the 10 defendants, or all of them, would plead guilty in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday, when they are to appear for arraignment. (An 11th defendant fled after being released on bail in Cyprus.)

A senior American diplomat, William J. Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, met on Wednesday with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei I. Kislyak, but State Department officials would say only that the spy case was discussed.

An exchange would have some advantages for the Obama administration, avoiding costly trials that could be an irritant for months or years in American-Russian relations. But the White House might be reluctant to give up the accused agents, who were the targets of a decade-long F.B.I. investigation, without getting prisoners that the United States valued in return.

The potential exchange could also fuel accusations that the administration was being soft on Russia. Conservatives, including Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and a possible Republican presidential candidate, have urged the Senate to reject the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty agreed to by President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia.

An exchange could prove awkward for both sides in other ways. Mr. Sutyagin’s innocence has been championed by human rights activists, for instance, and his family said he would prefer to remain in Russia. And John M. Rodriguez, a lawyer for one of the federal court defendants, Vicky Peláez, a veteran columnist for a Spanish-language newspaper in New York, said he believed that she would not want to move to Russia.

But a chance to escape prison appeared to be a powerful motivator in both countries. Mr. Sutyagin agreed to sign a confession, his family said, after being told it was necessary to be part of the exchange. And a lawyer for one of the defendants who had lived in Boston, known as Donald Heathfield, said his client’s greatest concern was for his two sons. The man’s wife, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, was also indicted as a member of the ring.

Mr. Heathfield’s lawyer, Peter B. Krupp, said the children had been “the No. 1 one priority and concern for my client and his wife since this whole ordeal started.”

He added, “If this case can be advanced or resolved more quickly and it helps them help their kids, they’re interested.”
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