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Days after Whelan arrest, Moscow claims US has detained a Russian citizen

FBI agents. (Melanie Rodgers Cox/US Air Force)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Days after Moscow arrested the former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan on spying charges, Russia has accused the United States of detaining a Russian citizen.

In a statement quoted by Russian media on January 5, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the United States detained Dmitry Makarenko on the Northern Mariana Islands on December 29 and moved him to Florida.

The ministry did not reveal the accusations against him but said U.S. authorities had failed to inform them of his arrest and they had only found out from his family.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has yet to provide comment. The U.S. State Department also has also not commented.

Papers filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida show Makarenko was accused in June 2017 by federal prosecutors of conspiring with another man, Vladimir Nevidomy, to export defense articles including night-vision scopes from the United States to Russia without U.S. approval.

Makarenko, who was listed as a resident of Vladivostok, was declared a fugitive from U.S. justice in Jan. 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.

Whelan was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service on December 28, although it was only announced on December 31.

His family have said he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.

In a Washington Post op-ed published on January 4, Whelan’s twin brother, David, urged the U.S. government to pressure Russia to release him.

“Paul is a kind and considerate brother, son and uncle, and a generous and loyal friend,” he wrote. “He travels as often as he can, both for work and pleasure. He is many things to many people, but he is not a spy.”

Relations between Russia and the United States are already strained over issues ranging from Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, to the poisoning of a double agent.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that Washington had asked Moscow to explain Whelan’s arrest and would demand his immediate return if it determined his detention was inappropriate.

Britain cautioned Russia on January 4 that individuals should not be used as diplomatic pawns.

Whelan also holds Canadian, British, and Irish citizenship.

The detention of Whelan comes weeks after Russian Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as an agent for the Kremlin.

The Kremlin has denied that Butina is a Russian agent and has organized a social-media campaign to secure her release.

In the past, Russia has sometimes arrested foreigners with the aim of trading prisoners with other countries.

Commenting on that possibility, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on January 5: “I see no reasons to raise this issue in the context of exchanges. We should undergo all the procedures needed in this situation.”