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Iran Press TV

US demands Russia explain detention of ex-Marine on spying charges

Iran Press TV

Thu Jan 3, 2019 03:57PM

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Washington wants an explanation for why Russia detained a former American Marine on spying charges in Moscow and will demand his immediate return if it determines his detention is inappropriate.

"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 Wednesday in Brasilia, where he attended the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday.

The detained American, Paul Whelan, is at a detention facility in Moscow, where he was arrested on Friday.

Whelan is 48 and served in the US Marine Corps Reserves from May 10, 1994 to December 2, 2008, He lives in Novi, Michigan.

Russia's FSB state security service opened a criminal case against Whelan but it gave no details of his suspected espionage activities. Spying can carry a prison sentence of between 10 and 20 years under Russian law.

Whelan's family said on Tuesday that he was visiting Moscow for the wedding of a retired Marine and is innocent of the espionage charges against him. He had been staying with the wedding party at Moscow's Metropol hotel when he went missing, his brother David said.

Some US officials say it was possible that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered Whelan's arrest to set up an exchange for Maria Butina, a Russian citizen who pleaded guilty on December 13 to acting as an agent to influence conservative groups in the United States.

Russia says Butina was forced to make a false confession about being a Russian agent.

Relations between US President Donald Trump and Putin have been under the spotlight because of a federal investigation into suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Trump has repeatedly denied that people close to him coordinated with Russia, calling the investigation by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller a "witch hunt."

Moscow has also denied any interference in US elections.

Russia's relations with the United States plummeted in 2014 when the Crimean Peninsula seceded from Ukraine and reunited with Moscow.

Washington and Western allies have imposed sanctions on Russian officials, companies and banks.

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