Is ex-US marine Paul Whelan, who is held in Russia on espionage charges, really a spy? In all likelihood, he is not. US Ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman met the 48-year-old Whelan five days after he was detained on spying charges. Huntsman gained access to the detainee just a few hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that he expected a clear reason as to why the United States citizen was arrested, demanding his release if the detention was not justified.
A statement made by the State Department said, “Ambassador Huntsman expressed his support for Mr. Whelan and offered the embassy’s assistance.”
The Russian Federal Security Service had said on Monday that the American was detained on December 28, and a criminal probe was ordered for spying on Russia. Ironically, Paul Whelan’s arrest came in less than a day after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin sent New Year wishes to President Donald Trump. The message said Russia was open for dialogue with USA on various subjects.
If convicted, Paul Whelan could face 20 years in prison. The marine vet works as the head of BorgWarner, a Michigan-based automotive parts supplier.
Whelan was discharged from the Marines as a ‘private’ in 2008 for misconduct. His family informed that Paul Whelan, who had visited Russia several times in the past, was in the country to attend a wedding in Moscow.
Former CIA official John Sipher, while speaking to The Washington Post, said it was unlikely that the marine vet is a spy. He said Russia has “an incredibly robust and talented counterintelligence service… The way we run spy cases in Moscow is very, very carefully, very meticulous.”
The ex-CIA officer added, “We don’t send in random Americans without diplomatic immunity to collect low-level stuff.”
In all likelihood, Paul Whelan was detained for a spy swap with America. The Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina was arrested in the US on charges of conspiracy to act as an illegal foreign agent of Russia. She had pleaded guilty to conspiring to infiltrate conservative US circles. The arrest of Paul Whelan has raised suspicions that Russia has held the marine vet for a swap with Butina.
According to a report by Izvestia, a pro-Kremlin media portal, Russian jails held 13 Americans in 2016.