Audio Transcript:

The 10 defendants in the Russian spies case entered guilty pleas in New York today. That means they've admitted to acting as agents of a foreign government while on U-S soil. And now a federal judge has ordered their immediate deportation. In a moment, we'll hear about some of the names that might be on Russia's swap list. The most prominent of them is Igor Sutyagin. He's a Russian physicist imprisoned for passing secret information to the West, something he's always denied. The World's Laura Lynch begins our coverage.

MARCO WERMAN: From Public Radio International, this is The World. A co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH, Boston. It's Thursday, July 8th. I'm Marco Werman. The suspected Russian spies in New York may be headed for Moscow soon. We'll have the latest. Also, Israel's murky relationship with apartheid-era South Africa. The author of a new book says Shimon Peres once considered a nuclear deal with the pariah state.

SASHA POLAKOW-SURANSKY: Peres was doing everything he could to sell everything he could at that time, and that included a bit of nuclear adventurism, in the sense that he was willing to at least discuss the possibility of a nuclear sale.

WERMAN: PRI's The World is brought to you by the Medtronic Foundation, marking the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act by recognizing non-profit organizations like United Cerebral Palsy, dedicated to advancing the independence, productivity, and full citizenship of people with disabilities. Learn more at MedtronicFoundation.org. I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. The spy swap is on. The ten defendants in the Russian spies case entered guilty pleas in New York today. That means they've admitted to acting as agents of a foreign government while on US soil and now a federal judge has ordered their immediate deportation. In a moment, we'll hear about some of the names that might be on Russia's swap list. The most prominent of them is Igor Sutyagin. He's a Russian physicist imprisoned for passing secret information to the West, something he's always denied. The World's Laura Lynch begins our coverage.

LAURA LYNCH: Igor Sutyagin had been serving hard time in a prison camp in northern Russia, with no expectation he'd be freed anytime soon. In fact, in May, a court denied his application for parole saying he'd violated prison rules and hadn't mended his ways. Now his brother Dmitri says freedom appears to be at hand. Dmitri speaks here through an interpreter.

RUSSIAN SPEAKING

DMITRI SUTYAGIN: Yesterday evening he told me that he was transported from Archangel, from the security camp where he was kept, to Lefortov which is a prison in Moscow and in Lefortov he was told that him and some other people are going to be swapped with some people who are suspected of espionage and are now held in USA. One of the conditions for the swap was that all of the people who are going to be swapped will have to sign documents where they completely, totally and utterly agree that they were guilty, accept their guilt.

LYNCH: But Igor Sutyagin's lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, says although her client did agree to the offer, he did so reluctantly because he continues to maintain his innocence.

RUSSIAN SPEAKING

ANNA STAVITSKAYA: The atmosphere and circumstances were such that to refuse wouldn't have been an option. Because if he had refused, he'd pretty much be writing off the rest of his life.

LYNCH: Sutyagin was arrested in 1999. He was charged with selling information on Russian nuclear submarines and missile warning systems to a British company, a company that prosecutors claimed was a front for the CIA. At the time, Sutyagin was working in Moscow for the Institute for US and Canadian Studies. Nicola Duckworth of Amnesty International says the case smacked of Soviet-era tactics.

NICOLA DUCKWORTH: There were some very compelling reasons why we thought that there was a very strong political motivation surrounding his prosecution.

LYNCH: Duckworth points to earlier prosecutions against other scientists for sharing information with western nations, information Amnesty says wasn't a threat to national security. Then came Sutyagin's arrest.

DUCKWORTH: We were very concerned because there was this context of what we believe were politically motivated prosecutions, essentially to stifle some dissenting voices. And that concern was highlighted by a number of violations of fair trial standards in his case.

LYNCH: Sutyagin has always said any information he shared was already in the public domain. And he's always refused to confess. His brother Dmitri says Igor told him that all changed very quickly in the last few days.

RUSSIAN SPEAKING

SUTYAGIN: I think that he was ? it was very unexpected for him to say the least. And I think he was really, really sorry. And he was sorry on two counts. Firstly because he had to admit his guilt which he never wanted to do. And secondly that he's ? him leaving the country means that he will lose his family. And he never planned before to leave the country. He was planning to stay and continue working in Russia.

LYNCH: Rights groups have long argued that Igor Sutyagin has endured the harshest treatment of those who were swept up in what they call Russia's spy mania. If he is leaving the country now though, Sutyagin will depart as a self-confessed secret agent forced into exile. The price it seems for regaining his freedom. For The World, I'm Laura Lynch in London.