More details emerging about Paul Whelan and what he was doing in Russia, why he was visited by our Ambassador Huntsman. Was the USB stick with names of Russians who worked for a classified security agency planted on Whelan or his intended pick up of this?
Many are suggesting this was an American capture to swap out Maria Butina, who faces jail time in the US, and that seems likely
Wonder what will happen here.
Mr. Whelan was arrested five minutes after receiving a USB stick containing a list of all the employees at a classified security agency, the report said.
Unusually for an occasional visitor to Russia, Mr. Whelan had an account on Vkontakte, the Russian version of Facebook, for about a decade. The account showed that he was last active at 4:55 p.m. on Dec. 28, the day the F.S.B. said he was arrested.
Mr. Whelan’s family said that he had been in Russia to attend the wedding of a friend from the Marine Corps who was marrying a Russian woman at the storied Metropol Hotel. Mr. Whelan knew his way around Moscow, they said, and offered to help wedding guests navigate the city.
Russians who knew him via social media sites over the past decade said he seemed to pop up every six months or so and enjoyed traveling around Russia, especially by train.
There has been widespread speculation that Russia seized Mr. Whelan to exchange him for Maria Butina, a Russian citizen jailed in the United States. Ms. Butina, 30, pleaded guilty on Dec. 13 in Federal District Court in Washington to a single charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent. She admitted to being involved in an organized effort, backed by Russian officials, to lobby influential Americans in the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party.
She faces six months in prison, most likely followed by deportation. An espionage conviction in Russia carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years.
Russia has denied that Ms. Butina acted in any official capacity. While there is no apparent connection between her case and Mr. Whelan’s, Russia has a history of arresting foreigners to exchange them for its citizens held elsewhere.
Mr. Whelan’s lawyer said that he would welcome an exchange, but that it would take time. The shortest possible timetable for the legal case would be six months to a year, he said, after which the issue of an exchange might be broached. Such a deal would require a pardon from President Vladimir V. Putin.
“This is a long process,” Mr. Zherebenkov said. “I myself hope that we can rescue and bring home one Russian soul.”