Speculation is growing of a possible prisoner swap between the US and Russia amid reports that a Russian scientist involved in the swap has been seen in Austria.
Reports by Russian news agencies said on Thursday that Igor Sutyagin, an arms expert jailed in Russia on charges of spying for the CIA and named in a possible US-Russia prisoner swap, has been seen in Vienna.
His lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, said a journalist called Sutyagin’s family to inform them that he had been seen walking off a plane in Vienna on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.
However, Sutyagin’s father Vyacheslav denied reports that he had received news of his son’s arrival in Austria.
“This is all speculation, don’t take it seriously,” BBC quoted him as saying.
Austria’s foreign ministry told Reuters it could neither confirm nor deny Sutyagin’s arrival on its soil.
Sutyagin’s brother, Dmitry, said Igor had been told by Russian officials that his release would be part of a spy swap.
The swap would see 11 prisoners in Russia convicted of spying for the US traded for the 10 suspected spies recently arrested in the US.
Dmitry had earlier said that Igor could be sent to Vienna and then to London as part of a swap plan where he and 10 others would be exchanged with Russian spies.
Officials in neither the US nor Russia have confirmed a swap was planned.
However, specific events – including a Wednesday meeting in Washington between US officials and the Russian ambassador – suggest that two former Cold War rivals have moved to decrease tensions that were caused by arrests.
“A swap seems very much on the cards. There is political will on both sides, and actually by even moving it as far as they have, Moscow has de facto acknowledged that these guys were spies,” AP quoted intelligence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer as saying.
On Wednesday, five of the suspects detained in Massachusetts and Virginia were ordered to be transferred to New York to attend a court hearing later on Thursday along with five already held in the city.