Feature

Igor Sutyagin: The spy who wasn’t

One minute, the 45-year-old Russian was shoveling gravel in Siberia. The next, he was a free man in London, part of a spy swap that sent 11 Russian “sleeper” agents to Moscow in exchange for four jailed Russians.

Igor Sutyagin is bewildered by his newfound freedom, said Ian Black in the London Guardian. One minute, the 45-year-old Russian was shoveling gravel in Siberia, 11 years into a 15-year term on a charge of espionage. The next, he was a free man in London, part of last month’s U.S.-Russian spy swap that sent 11 Russian “sleeper” agents to Moscow in exchange for four jailed Russians. “You never get any explanation why you are transported anywhere,” Sutyagin says. “You are just a prisoner.” Dropped in London, he’s now a stranger in a strange land, another twist in a life dictated by bizarre circumstances.

He was arrested in 1999 by the FSB, Russia’s security agency, after he took a job with a British investment company that the Russians say was a CIA front. But Sutyagin insists he was never a spy. “[The FSB] tried to prove that it was an exchange of information,” he says of his work as an analyst. “But it was intended to illustrate trends to prove that it was secure to invest in Russia.” American officials back him up: Unlike the other freed Russians, the CIA says, Sutyagin was never a secret agent and was included in the deal on human-rights grounds.

Though thankful, Sutyagin says he just wants to go back to Russia. “Psychologically, it’s important for me to go home to where my family is,” he says. “I am like Solzhenitsyn. I want to be free in my own country.”

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