Early this morning the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) released a statement on the arrest of United States (US) citizen Paul Whelan. According to the press release in Russian, Whelan was arrested on December 28th in Moscow.
“The investigation department of the Federal Security Service of Russia initiated a criminal case against a US citizen under article 276 [espionage] of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The investigation is underway,” the translated statement read according to numerous outlets.
According to media sources, US officials have spoken to Whelen. Under the Vienna convention, Russia is obligated to give a US consular access to those held in custody.
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What We Currently Know
The details surrounding the arrest of Whelan have yet to be made public. However, The Guardian raises an interesting point:
Moscow’s move followed the guilty plea in December of a 30-year-old Russian woman who was living in the US and admitted to secretly acting as an agent of Moscow. Maria Butina – who pleaded guilty after a period in solitary confinement in a US prison – had extensive contact with senior Republican operatives and politicians and sought to infiltrate the National Rifle Association. She also gave information about US politicians to a Russian government official.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin (who is the former Director of the FSB) has claimed “nobody” knew of Butina in his government, Putin also asserted that Russian forces were not in Eastern Ukraine during the height of the War in Donbass, which was proven to be a lie when Russian soldiers took and posted selfies while in the region. Even if Putin himself did not know of her actions, it’s highly unlikely Butina worked independently from Putin directed Russian intelligence agencies.
CNN provided further information on the FSB, “The FSB, however, does have some longstanding cooperation with US intelligence on issues such as counterterrorism,” they began. “Earlier this year, a US official with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed that then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the FSB, along with the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, or SVR.”
Recent International Intelligence Tension
In March more than twenty countries ordered the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats after Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned in the United Kingdom (UK). However, last week the UK and Russia agreed to allow the return of some diplomats.
In October, the US charged seven Russian spies who were connected to The Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU), in relation to cyber-hacking connected to the 2016 US General election. It is not yet known how this situation will affect the US and Russian diplomatic relations or if it is connected to the ongoing Mueller investigation.