The family of an imprisoned Russian spy says that he is part of a group of convicted spies Russia will exchange for the alleged Russian spies arrested in the United States last week. Scientist Igor Sutyagin is to be released Thursday, his family says he has told them, as part of a deal in which 11 prisoners from Russia will be traded for 11 in the U.S., including some or all of the suspected Russian agents in the U.S.
"[Sutyagin] said that the list was 11 people from here, 11 from there, one for another," his brother Dmitry told ABC News.
Sutyagin, a weapons specialist, was arrested in 1999, convicted of spying in 2004, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He is accused of passing nuclear secrets to a British company Russia believed to be a front for the CIA.
He has long denied the charge but one of the conditions of the exchange was signing a confession, which his family says has gutted him.
"He does not admit that he's a spy," his mother Svetlana said. "He is doing this to save his family because if he refuses his family will suffer. On top of that he knows what it's like to be imprisoned, he knows what will happen to those 11 who are in the States now. That's why he doesn't want them to be in prison. If there's a chance of saving both his family and them, he'll leave the country."
Sutyagin's brother said there was no other option, "our special services unfortunately know how to make life impossible in this country."
"Igor was given the clear understanding that he didn't have any other choice. If he said no, the deal would fall apart...," said Dmitry Sutyagin.
Neither the U.S State Department nor the Russian Foreign Ministry have commented on Sutyagin's pending release. The New York Times reported Wednesday that the U.S. government was discussing a possible solution with the suspected spies' lawyers in order to prevent lengthy trials.
Of the prisoners supposedly requested by the U.S, Sutyagin only remembered one name from a list he was shown – Colonel Sergei Skripal.
Skripal was convicted of high treason in 2006, sentenced to 13 years in prison for allegedly accepting $100,000 to reveal the identities of Russian agents in Europe to Great Britain's MI6 secret service.
Russian Spy Tells Family Swap for U.S. Spies Is Imminent
On Tuesday, with little warning, Sutyagin was brought to Moscow from his prison in Arkhangelsk in northern Russia, Sutyagin's lawyer said in an interview.
"It was all of a sudden, it happened by surprise," said Anna Stavitskaya. "The day before yesterday he was still in prison and yesterday within half an hour he was he packed up and transported to Lefortovo [prison in Moscow]. Yesterday his parents got a call that they can come to the prison and meet with him and he told them that he's going to be swapped among 11 people."
At Lefortovo, his brother says, he met with American agents.
"Who they were he doesn't know," Dmitry said. "There were Russian representatives and a Russian general supposedly from the internal intelligence services with whom these issues were discussed."
On Thursday, Sutyagin is to be flown to Vienna where he'll be handed off to British officials before flying on to London. His family says he plans to start a new life there but isn't overjoyed by the prospect.
"Igor is a patriot and wanted to continue to live here, that's why he sees being sent to London as trading his camp in Arkhangelsk for a camp in London, but with milder conditions," Sutyagin's brother said. "Meetings with family were limited in Arkhangelsk and they'll be limited in London as well. We won't see him often and it's unclear how we can visit him, how he can visit us, it's all uncertain."