Russia has rejected a British suggestion that it might use a former U.S. Marine detained in December 2018 in Russia on espionage charges as a pawn in a diplomatic game, saying that Moscow reserves the right to conduct counterintelligence activities.
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who also holds British, Canadian, and Irish citizenship. was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service on Dec. 28, 2018.
His family have said he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said, in remarks about the case, that individuals should not be used as pawns of diplomatic leverage.
Asked about Hunt’s comment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “In Russia we never use people as pawns in diplomatic games. In Russia we conduct counterintelligence activity against those suspected of espionage. That is done regularly.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Peskov also said that he was not aware of statements on a possible swap of Whelan in exchange for Russian citizen Maria Butina, held in the United States.
Butina has pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as an agent for the Kremlin and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, leading to speculation of a possible swap.
On Jan. 5, 2019, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that discussing a swap involving Whelan would be premature because Whelan hasn’t been formally charged.
“As to the possibility of exchanges of one sort or 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 the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency.
The Russian outlet earlier reported that Whelan had been indicted on spying charges that carry a possible prison sentence of up to 20 years.
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.