Russia: Too early to consider exchange of US spy suspect

David Whelan, brother of Paul Whelan, poses in his house in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada on January 5, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 06 January 2019
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Russia: Too early to consider exchange of US spy suspect

  • Asked about the matter by reporters at the White House on Sunday, President Donald Trump said: “We’re looking into that”

MOSCOW: Russia’s deputy foreign minister has brushed back suggestions that an American being held in Moscow on suspicion of spying could be exchanged for a Russian citizen.
The brother of Paul Whelan, however, told The Associated Press that he can’t help but question whether the events are 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.”
Asked about the matter by reporters at the White House on Sunday, President Donald Trump said: “We’re looking into that.”
Paul Whelan, a former US Marine who also holds Canadian, British and Irish citizenship, was detained in Moscow in late December. His arrest has led to speculation that Russia could be using him to bargain for a Russian woman who has pleaded guilty to acting as a foreign agent in the US
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Saturday 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.
“Charges will be presented in the near future,” he said, according to the Interfax agency.
Some Russian news reports earlier cited unnamed sources as saying Whelan had been indicted on espionage charges that carry a possible prison sentence of 20 years.
Russian 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. His family has said he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.
His brother, David, told the AP that Whelan loves to travel and likes to “interact with the people in the places that he goes,” but that Whelan would be too “conspicuous” to be selected as a spy.
David Whelan said his family had had no direct contact with Paul and had received no details about the alleged 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 Dec. 29 in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Pacific. The ministry said Sergei Makarenko was sent to Florida after his arrest and it wants consular access to him.
The Saipan Tribune reported that Makarenko was indicted in 2017 in Florida for the alleged illegal shipment of military goods to Russia.
Konstantin Kosachev, head of the international affairs committee of the upper house of the Russian parliament, said Makarenko’s arrest was “the latest attack on a citizen of Russia outside the framework of international law,” Interfax reported.


Pakistan rescues four Iranian soldiers from militant group: army

Updated 27 min 22 sec ago
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Pakistan rescues four Iranian soldiers from militant group: army

  • The statement said the soldiers were being handed over to Iranian authorities
  • The incident comes months after the Sunni militantn group Jaish Al-Adl abducted 12 Iranian security personnel in October last year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has rescued four Iranian soldiers being held captive by a militant group in the country’s restive southwest, the military said in a statement Thursday.
The rescue took place in Chaghi district of Balochistan province, near the Afghan border, the statement said.
“Terrorists of a proscribed organization were reported to have entered Pakistan from Afghanistan side along with abducted Iranian soldiers,” it said.
“After exchange of fire, four Iranian soldiers (were) recovered,” it continued.
The statement said the soldiers were being handed over to Iranian authorities, though it did not say when. It also did not say what date the rescue took place, or name the group holding the soldiers.
The incident comes months after the Sunni militantn group Jaish Al-Adl abducted 12 Iranian security personnel in October last year near the border.
Five of them were later released and handed back to Iran by Islamabad.
Relations between Pakistan and Iran recently suffered another blow after Tehran said a Pakistani suicide bomber was behind a February 13 attack that killed 27 Revolutionary Guards in its volatile southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan.
Jaish Al-Adl, which Tehran says operates mostly out of bases in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the blast.