Russia rules out prisoner swap for detained former US marine

Paul Whelan, who has an Irish passport, was arrested in Moscow on suspicion of spying

 A view of the US embassy building in Moscow, Russia. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

A view of the US embassy building in Moscow, Russia. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA


Russia has said it will not exchange a former US marine arrested in Moscow for Russians detained by the US.

Commenting on the possibility of an exchange of prisoners, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying on Saturday: “I see no reasons to raise this issue in context of exchanges. We should undergo all the procedures needed in this situation.”

Former US marine Paul Whelan was taken into custody by Russia’s Federal Security Service on December 28th on suspicion of spying. His family have said he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.

The Russian foreign ministry also announced on Saturday that the US had detained a Russian citizen a day after Moscow arrested Mr Whelan.

The ministry said the US detained Russian citizen Dmitry Makarenko on December 29th on the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean, and had transferred him to Florida.

“. . . Makarenko, born in 1979, has arrived on Saipan Island with his wife, underage children and elderly parents. He was detained by FBI personnel at the airport right after his arrival,” the ministry said.

Papers filed in the US district court for the southern district of Florida show Mr Makarenko was accused in June 2017 by federal prosecutors of conspiring with another man, Vladimir Nevidomy, to export defence articles including night-vision scopes from the US to Russia without US approval.

Mr Makarenko, who was listed as a resident of Vladivostok, was declared a fugitive from US justice in January 2018. Nevidomy, a resident of Hallandale Beach, Florida, pleaded guilty in June 2018 and was sentenced to 26 months in prison, the court papers showed.

The latest developments come after Irish officials sought permission from the Russian government to visit Mr Whelan. It emerged on Friday that Mr Whelan, a 48-year-old who lives in Michigan, legally holds US, Irish, Canadian and British passports.

Strained relationship

The accusations from both sides could further complicate a strained relationship between Moscow and Washington, despite the professed desire of presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to build a personal rapport.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said this week that Washington had asked Moscow to explain Mr Whelan’s arrest and would demand his immediate return if it determined his detention is inappropriate.

The UK also cautioned Russia on Friday that individuals should not be used as diplomatic pawns.

The Russian foreign ministry said in its statement on Saturday that Moscow diplomats had not been able to reach Mr Makarenko in Florida and that Washington had yet to explain his detention.

Before Moscow gave details of Mr Makarenko’s detention, experts had speculated that Moscow could exchange Mr Whelan for Russian nationals held by Washington.

Mr Whelan’s Toronto-based twin brother David Whelan told Reuters on Saturday that US embassy officials met with his sibling on Wednesday and would visit him again next week.

“He seemed as well as can be expected in a Russian jail. He was missing a lot of personal necessities, like toilet paper, that aren’t provided,” David Whelan said in a telephone interview.

“So the state department has helped us set up an account . . . so that he can buy the supplies that he needs.” – Reuters