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U.S. Demands Explanation From Russia Over Arrest Of Ex-Marine On Spying Charges

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Paul Whelan

The United States is seeking an explanation for why Russia arrested a retired U.S. Marine on spying charges in Moscow and will demand his immediate return if it determines his detention is inappropriate, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

The U.S. State Department said U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman visited Paul Whelan at a detention facility in Moscow on January 2 and spoke by phone with his family.

The United States had expressed concern through diplomatic channels over delayed access to Whelan, a department spokesman said in a statement.

"We've made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges, come to understand what it is he's been accused of and if the detention is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate return," Pompeo said during a visit to Brazil on January 2.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on December 31 that it had arrested an American, later identified as Paul Whelan, who it said was caught red-handed carrying out an act of espionage.

Whelan, 48, is a former U.S. Marine who lives in the state of Michigan and is director of global security at BorgWarner, a U.S.-based supplier of automotive parts and components.

In a statement obtained by RFE/RL on January 1, Whelan's family denied he was a spy and said he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.

The family said Whelan was last heard from on December 28.

Russian officials have given no details of Whelan's alleged involvement in espionage. He could face between 10 to 20 years in prison if tried and convicted.

The announcement of Whelan’s detainment came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow remains open to dialogue with Washington in a New Year’s greeting to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Relations between Washington and Moscow are badly strained over issues including Russia’s role in wars in Syria and eastern Ukraine, its alleged meddling in elections in the United States and elsewhere, and the poisoning of a double agent in Britain.

The detention of Whelan comes weeks after Russian Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as an agent for the Kremlin.

The Kremlin has denied that Butina is a Russian agent and has organized a social-media campaign to secure her release.

In the past, Russia has sometimes arrested foreigners with the aim of trading prisoners with other countries.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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