MOSCOW — The brother of an American man being held in Moscow on suspicion of spying is raising the possibility that his sibling is being used as a pawn in a potential exchange for a Russian woman behind bars in the U.S.
Paul Whelan's brother told The Associated Press that he can't help but question if 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 U.S. 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 U.S.
But 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.
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