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Russia spy swap raises suspicions

At least one ranking Russian lawmaker calls the U.S.-Russia exchange 'fishy and sneaky.'

July 10, 2010|Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Moscow — If the speed of Friday's spy swap in Vienna lifted some eyebrows in the United States, it's also raised the suspicions of at least one ranking Russian lawmaker who is calling the event "fishy and sneaky."

"The whole story gives me the creeps," said Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB counterintelligence officer who now serves as deputy head of the State Duma security committee, noting that the "haste" of the operation to trade 10 Russian agents arrested in the U.S. for four men held by Moscow has him considering calling a hearing to uncover "who were these people?"

"If they were our spies … then it is a complete loss of face for our intelligence, it is a total loss of image," he told The Times on Saturday. "Their level of preparation and training is awful, their level of communication and message composing is ridiculous, and the level of their interrelation in the group is laughable."

It remains unclear where many of the 14 involved in the exchange will ultimately reside because some have few ties to their new homes.

Two of the participants in the spy swap have contacted relatives to say they are doing well.

Anna Chapman, the glamorous redhead who achieved Internet fame after her arrest in New York, and Igor Sutyagin, an arms researcher sentenced to 15 years in Russian prison in 2004 for spying, both made phone calls after the exchange.

"Everything is OK, we have landed," Chapman told her sister by phone from Moscow's Domodedovo Airport on Friday, a friend of the family said.

Svetlana Sutyagina, Igor's mother, told The Times on Saturday that her son was in a hotel outside London, apparently with Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence colonel, and "still getting his bearings."

"He doesn't have any decent clothes … he is still dressed in his prison garb," she said, adding that Sutyagin was told not to leave the hotel until British authorities come for him Monday.

"He doesn't have any plans, and he doesn't have a vague idea what he is going to do now…. He just needs time to adjust to this new life. He is definitely not asking for political asylum in Britain."

Gudkov was more focused on Sutyagin's past than his future.

"One good thing about this is that the Americans acknowledged that Sutyagin, after all, was a spy and not an innocent scientist in whose defense all the human rights activists screamed at the top of their voices that he was framed up and falsely accused and that he was a political victim," Gudkov said. "The FSB [Russian Federal Security Service] didn't make a mistake … and the Americans proved it. Why save him now if he wasn't a spy?"

Echoing critics of the exchange in the West, Gudkov wondered which side in the swap got the better deal.

"The Americans didn't even want to keep [the Russian agents] longer to find out more about the whole affair. Why? Did they already get what they wanted? Or did they know for a long time that these guys were some phony spies, and they specifically arrested them to exchange for the people they valued so much and wanted out of Russian prisons?" he asked.

"I feel something is amiss here in a big way."

Loiko is a staff writer in The Times' Moscow Bureau.

Times wires services were used in compiling this report.

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