Strange games

In the current issue of Yezhednevny zhurnal Alexander Podrabinek examines the current U.S.-Russia “spy swap” and detects a strong element of farce in the proceedings [my tr.]:

Why farce? Judge for yourself. The Russian spies who have been uncovered in the U.S. are the embodiment of amateurishness and mediocrity. And the FBI’s ten-year hunt for them can be taken about as seriously as the Russian spies themselves. The political prisoner Igor Sutyagin was not a political opponent of the regime and ended up in jail more or less by chance – simply because the FSB needed to demonstrate its success at least in something. Sutyagin bears no guilt, either political or espionage-related. He is a random victim of the Chekists’ ambitions and conscious manipulation. For his work with open sources he received 15 years in prison – quite a dramatic result of the farce performed by the FSB.

Sutyagin did not plead guilty at his trial. A large public campaign was organized in his defence, and Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. Three years ago Sutyagin filed a petition for clemency, but a few days ago he signed a written statement expressing repentance for the crime he did not commit. This was the price of freedom. According to his relatives, he explained his repentance by saying that if he had not written the statement the exchange would not take place and he felt very sorry for the Russian spies arrested in the United States, who would have had to serve time in jail, as he had. A strange argument, I think, and a very weak position, especially given that the people who have defended him all these years were sincerely convinced of his innocence. While they are unlikely to change their minds about this now, they will probably be more cautious in such cases in future. At least where Russian political prisoners are concerned.

Podrabinek sees a further dimension of strangeness in recent events:

While it is hard to congratulate Igor Sutyagin on his release, we can at least be pleased that he is free. However, it is far from clear why he needs to leave Russia. In this voluntary/involuntary departure there are echoes of the spy exchanges of the Cold War. But today, if Sutyagin still has Russian citizenship (and no one can deprive him of that), then what is to stop him returning to Russia whether temporarily or for good, at any time?

Some kind of strange game is being played by the Russian secret services. One has the impression that they thought up the idea of the exchange in a bad state of hangover, without even trying to relate their plans to current legislation and real life. Perhaps in a similar condition they also prepared the Russian spies for their work abroad. Well, they’re ours, and that explains a lot.

See also: Igor Sutyagin

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