Too early to consider exchange of US spy suspect: Russia deputy foreign minister

Vastavam web: Russia’s deputy foreign minister brushed back suggestions Saturday that an American being held in Moscow on suspicion of spying could be exchanged for a Russian citizen. The brother of Paul Whelan, however, tells The Associated Press that he can’t help but question whether the events are indeed connected.”You look at what’s going on and you wonder if this is just a large game of pieces being moved around,” David Whelan told the AP via Skype from Newmarket, Ontario. “You start to wonder if all of these things are connected. But at the same time, they could just be arbitrary events.”

His arrest has led to speculation that Russia could be using him to bargain for a Russian who pleaded guilty to acting as a foreign agent in the United States.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that discussing a possible swap involving Whelan and Maria Butina would be premature because Whelan hasn’t been formally charged, according to Russian news agencies. “As to the possibility of exchanges of one sort of another, it’s impossible and incorrect to consider the question now when an official charge hasn’t even been presented,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by state news agency RIA-Novosti.

Officials haven’t given details of Whelan’s suspected activities and he was initially identified only as an American. His concurrent Canadian, British and Irish citizenships became known on Friday. US Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. visited Whelan on Wednesday in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, a 130-year-old facility noted for strict conditions. Britain, Canada and Ireland have applied for consular access to him. Whelan, 48, was discharged from the Marines for bad conduct. He works as the global security director for a US automobile parts manufacturer and lives in Michigan.

David Whelan said his family had had no direct contact with Paul and had received no details about the espionage charges from either the Russian or US governments. “He likes to go places and Russia happens to be a place where he knows people and when he’s there, he does go and visit,” David Whelan said. Paul Whelan established an account on VKontakte, a social media service similar to Facebook that is popular among Russians, which showed he had scores of contacts in Russia.

Many attended universities affiliated with the military, civil aviation or technical studies. Many share his interest in sports and firearms. Also Saturday, the Foreign Ministry said it was seeking information about a Russian who was arrested December 29 in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, a United States commonwealth in the Pacific.