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Ex-US Marine held in Russia on spy charges reportedly seeks bail

Then-Staff Sgt. Paul N. Whelan, adjutant, Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), pictured before the Kremlin in 2007. (Cpl. James B. Hoke/U.S. Marine Corps)
This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A lawyer acting for a former U.S. Marine detained in Russia on espionage charges has filed an appeal with a Moscow court seeking to have his client released on bail, Russian news agencies report.

Paul Whelan, who also holds British, Irish, and Canadian citizenship, was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on December 28.

The court has received the appeal, but has not yet set a date for a hearing, agencies reported.

Whelan’s family says he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.

On January 9, the Kremlin denied Western allegations that it was using Whelan as a pawn in a political game.

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“Russia never uses people as pawns in some diplomatic game,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

Russia “carries out counterintelligence activities against those who are suspected of espionage,” Peskov said. “This is done regularly.”

Peskov spoke after British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned last week that Whelan should not be used as a pawn in “diplomatic chess games.”

Media reports have speculated that Whelan was detained to facilitate a possible spy swap with a Russian agent arrested abroad, possibly Marina Butina, a gun-rights campaigner who has pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as an agent for the Kremlin and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

On January 5, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that discussing a swap involving Whelan would be premature because Whelan hadn’t been formally charged.