Jeremy Hunt warns Russia not to play ‘diplomatic chess games’ over British man arrested for spying

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned Russia on Friday against playing "diplomatic chess games" following the arrest of Paul Whelan, an ex-Marine with dual UK and US citizenship, on spying charges.

Paul Whelan was formally charged on Thursday, and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. It was alleged that he had been handed a USB drive containing a secret list of Russian agents. 

His case has been linked to that of Maria Butina, a Russian national convicted for seeking to influence US politics during the 2016 presidential election.

"We don’t agree with individuals being used in diplomatic chess games… We are all extremely worried about him and his family," Mr Hunt told the BBC in an interview.

US officials in Moscow informed UK counterparts of Mr Whelan’s dual nationality status. The revelation will add to existing tensions between London and Moscow, after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury last March.  

Mr Whelan, 48, was arrested for spying on December 28 at the Metropol hotel, yards from the Kremlin. 

Vladimir Zherebenkov, the ex-marine’s lawyer, told Interpol that he had appealed against the charges and had requested that Mr Whelan be released on bail. A decision is not expected soon. 

According to the Associated Press, Mr Zherebenkov said he visited Mr Whelan on Wednesday and found him in a “in a good mood and cracks jokes”. 

On the same day, the American ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, met Mr Whelan at Lefortovo prison, a former KGB facility, where he is being held. 

Washington has pushed for an explanation to Mr Whelan’s detention. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said he would demand his “immediate return” if the US found the detention was inappropriate.   

Mr Whelan’s family has said that he was visiting Moscow for the wedding of a fellow former Marine, and that he had been to Russia “numerous times” since 2007.  

He was born in Canada to British parents, and later moved to the US. His brother David Whelan said their family was from the West Midlands.    

Russian authorities have given no further information about Whelan’s arrest.

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