American and Russian diplomats are scrambling to put together an elaborate spy swap as soon as tomorrow that could spring from jail the 10 accused Russian agents who were rounded up last week, according to lawyers and relatives of some of the people who would be exchanged.
A senior U.S. official confirmed that there are negotiations under way for a possible swap.
Russia apparently began pushing for the swap, offering up Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear weapons expert who was convicted of espionage in 2004 and is now in jail, according to Sutyagin's attorney and family. Sutyagin was sentenced by a Russian court to 15 years on charges of passing classified military information to a British firm that prosecutors said was as a front for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
Sutyagin's brother Dmitry told ABC News Wednesday that American agents met with Sutyagin Tuesday in a Moscow prison.
Dmitry said if the deal goes through, it is likely Sutyagin would be pardoned and freed as early as Thursday. Dmitry said the family believes he would then be flown to Vienna and on to London for release, although they do not know exactly when. He said the scientist will be escorted to Vienna by Russian security services and met by the British. Dmitry confirmed that his brother told him that he and ten others would be exchanged for eleven people including the 10 alleged Russian spies in the U.S.
Also in the possible swap mix is Russian Colonel Sergei Skripal, according to what Sutyagin told his brother. Skripal was convicted of high treason and sentenced to 13 years in prison for allegedly working with Britain's MI6. He was accused of taking $100,000 to reveal the identities of Russian intelligence agents in Europe.
The U.S. official cautioned that it is unlikely that there would be an even swap and said that the U.S. could push for the release of individuals imprisoned in Russia who are not connected with espionage.
According to the Sutyagin's lawyer Anna Stavitskaya, Sutyagin and his family are sad that he had to admit to being guilty in exchange for freedom, but said he had no other choice. Sutyagin has maintained that he is innocent.
Efforts seem to be moving more slowly on the American side of the deal. The Russian government has called attorneys for at least one of the accused spies asking if they would be open to a swap. The Russian Consulate in New York contacted John Rodriguez, attorney for accused Russian spy Vicky Pelaez yesterday.
"[They asked] was she interested in going to Russia? I said, ' For what?'" said Rodriguez, who said Pelaez has family in the United States and has no reason to move to Russia. Rodriguez told ABC News his client his innocent.
Pelaez is currently being held in downtown Manhattan and is expected to be in court Wednesday afternoon. She is the only one of the group that has been given initial court approval to be released on bail, though federal prosecutors plan to appeal that decision. She is believed to be the only one of the 10 accused agents who is not Russian born.