MOSCOW -- The United States' new ambassador to Russia has urged Moscow to release Paul Whelan and accused the Russian authorities of "shameful treatment" of the former U.S. Marine, who is accused of spying.
Ambassador John Sullivan made the comments outside Moscow's Lefortovo detention center on January 30 after visiting Whelan, who is being held in pretrial detention in a case that has ratcheted up already tense relations between Russia and the United States.
"Despite the Russian government's immediate claims that they caught Paul, quote 'red-handed' unquote, the investigators have shown no evidence, zero. Paul's case has gone on far too long, shielded in secrecy and hidden from view," Sullivan said, days after taking his new post.
The 49-year-old Whelan, who holds joint U.S., British, Canadian, and Irish citizenship, was detained by Russian intelligence officers in his hotel room in Moscow on December 28, 2018.
A Moscow court has extended his detention until March 29.
Sullivan said that all of Whelan's requests to call home have "either been denied or ignored," treatment that the U.S. ambassador said "violates international norms and standards of decency."
Russian authorities have ignored previous efforts to secure Whelan's release and dismissed his allegations of ill-treatment.
Russian authorities say they caught him with a flash drive containing classified information.
Whelan, who denies the charges against him, says he was duped into possessing what he understood to be vacation images.
He could face 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage.