Staunton, July 19 – The recent exchange between Moscow and Washington of 11 Russian spies for four people under arrest in the Russian Federation has prompted one Moscow journalist to explore whether his government has more people in custody that it might use in some future exchange.
In an article in “Novaya versiya” today, investigative journalist Ruslan Gorevoy says that sources in “the competent organs” have told him “confidentially” that there are “at a minimum 50 more candidates for exchange, among whom are both [Russian Federation] citizens and those holding foreign passports” (versia.ru/articles/2010/jul/19/obmen_zakluchennymi).
That more such people, both Russian and foreign nationals, are held in Russian penal institutions, the journalist says, is suggested by the fact that President Dmitry Medvedev pardoned 16 additional people at the time that he pardoned the four who were involved in the exchange with the United States.
According to Gorevoy, the people in the reserve fall into three categories. The first includes foreign nationals, some of whom have been convicted of espionage but many of whom have been sentenced for other crimes, even though they may have been engaged in spying. There are approximately two dozen of them.
The second category includes about 15 Russian scholars who have been convicted of engaging in espionage. And the third includes real “traitors” from the FSB, the GRU, and the SVR, who have been “neutralized.” The exact number of these is “a state secret, but experts in open sources mention on the order of ten names.”
Gorevoy describes the case of four Israelis who were arrested for spying but were ultimately convicted of diamond smuggling, apparently because, he continues, Moscow had not tried foreigners for espionage for some time and was concerned “about the possible reaction abroad” of doing so in that case.
But they became part of Russia’s “exchange fund,” as it were and as one of their number complained in an open letter to the Israeli media, even though Tel Aviv ultimately rejected Moscow’s offer to free them in exchange for Leonid Nevzlin, a colleague of oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Another source for this “fund” comes from arrests in other CIS countries. Sometimes this works, Gorevoy says, but not always. Emmanuil Zeltser, a US lawyer specializing in corruption investigations, was arrested in Belarus on spy charges, and Moscow reportedly hoped to exchange him for Boris Berezovsky. But that plan fell through, officials say, when Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka changed his mind.
There are also Russian citizens in this reserve exchange group, Gorevoy points out. “And they are more serious” than the four who were released in the latest exchange. Among them is former GRU Colonel Aleksandr Sypachyov, who confessed to providing information to Western intelligence services on Russian military spies abroad.
“Although the Americans would have liked to obtain namely him and not Sutyagin and his colleagues” – they supposedly proposed trading all 10 of the Russians detained for Sypachyov alone – he is “a real diamond” for such exchanges, Russian intelligence officials say, and would be traded only in exchange for someone or even several people of equivalent value.
And Gorevoy notes that President Medvedev did not pardon other scholars accused of espionage, including Valentin Danilov, Igor Reshetin, Mikhail Ivanov, Aleksandr Rozhkin, Sergey Vizir, and Ivan Pitkov. People like them, he suggests, “will possibly be exchanged for more important people than those whom the Americans offered.”