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The twin brother of a former US Marine who is being held in Russia on an apparent espionage charge has urged the British Government to “keep an eye on him”.
Paul Whelan, who has UK citizenship, was arrested in Moscow last week and his family now fear the 48-year-old could be kept in jail for up to two years.
Mr Whelan’s detention prompted Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to warn the Kremlin not to use Britons as diplomatic pawns following speculation that he could be used to barter for the release of a Russian citizen jailed in the US.
Speaking to the Press Association from Newmarket, Ontario, Mr Whelan’s twin brother David said: “In the short-term the thing we would appreciate most from the UK Government and are certain that it’s going to happen – we’re not questioning any will on their part after Mr Hunt’s statement – is that they will keep an eye on Paul and assist the US and the other two countries to maintain him in good health until we can get him home.”
Paul Whelan has British citizenship through his parents, but is also a citizen of Ireland, Canada and the US.
The former serviceman is the subject of an investigation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) over espionage charges, which carry punishment of up to 20 years in jail, according to the Kremlin-backed Tass news agency.
His brother said: “I don’t think anybody has rose-coloured glasses about this.
“We’ve heard a variety of timelines and I think we’re all looking at months for certain and perhaps even a couple of years, and we’re not thinking it’s necessarily going to be a short-term stay, but we are certainly hoping it will be as short as possible.”
Mr Whelan’s arrest comes after Russian national Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in the US last month, admitting to conspiring to infiltrate the US gun rights movement to collect intelligence on conservative political groups as Donald Trump rose to power.
But Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov has been quoted as saying there is “no connection” between the cases.
David Whelan said his brother’s arrest appeared to be “very arbitrary” and there was nothing to indicate he was a spy.
“I realise that there are geopolitical aspects to this that we can’t really know about; what’s happening at that level,” he said. “(But) it really does feel like wrong person wrong time which doesn’t help anybody.
“Our family is tending to focus on getting him out anything we can do to make his stay as least-awful as possible and not worry so much about the rationale for what caused it.”
The ex-serviceman was in Moscow to help plan a fellow former Marine’s wedding and had visited Russia on three previous occasions, his brother said.