>> An American citizen, Paul Whelan, has been charged with espionage by Russia, the Interfax new agency reported on Thursday, in a case which threatens to aggravate diplomatic tensions between the two countries. Russia security service FSB detained Whelan less than a week ago in Moscow on suspicion of spying, but did not disclose any specific details.
Whelan is being held in Russia's notorious Lefortovo Detention Facility, reportedly in solitary confinement. His lawyer told Reuters by telephone that Whelan was quote, feeling positive, and that a translator was explaining the legal procedures to him. Adding that, quote, all his rights and all international principles are being fully followed.
48-year-old Whelan's family says he was in Russia to attend the wedding of a friend from the Marine Corps. They maintain he's innocent and are concerned for his safety. His arrest has spurred high profile US officials into action. On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US will demand Whelan's 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.>> There's also widespread speculation that Russia arrested Whelanto setup a political swap, potentially exchanging him for Maria Butina, a Russian citizen who could face up to six months in a US prison after pleading guilty last month in Washington for conspiring to act as a foreign agent.
Butina also admitted to being involved in an effort backed by Russian officials to lobby influential Republicans. Russia says Butina was forced to make a false confession. Whelan's lawyer says that under the terms of the arrest order, the retired Marine is expected to remain in custody in Moscow until at least February 28th.
If found guilty of espionage under Russian law, Whelan could be sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in prison.