American Paul Whelan detained by Russia, accused of spying

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What You Need to Know: Paul Whelan

Authorities with Russia’s domestic security agency have arrested a U.S. citizen in Moscow on suspicion of spying, officials said in a statement Monday.

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Officials with Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, the top KGB successor agency, said in a statement obtained by The New York Times that an American identified as Paul Whelan had been taken into custody on Friday "during an act of espionage." The charge can carry a prison term between 10 and 20 years, if Whelan is convicted, according to Russia's TASS news agency.

A State Department spokesperson said in a statement that the Russian Foreign Ministry formally notified U.S. officials that an American had been detained in Moscow, though they declined to release the person’s name due to privacy considerations.

>> Maria Butina conspired against U.S. under direction of Russian government

“Russia's obligations under the Vienna Convention require them to provide consular access,” the statement said. “We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it."

The arrest comes as Russia-U.S. ties have sunk to post-Cold War lows over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

>> Who is Maria Butina, the woman charged with acting as a Russian agent in the US? 

Maria Buttina, a 30-year-old Russian citizen living in Washington D.C., pleaded guilty earlier this month to conspiracy to act as an illegal foreign agent in the United States. Authorities said she was acting at the direction of a Russian official.

In October, U.S. authorities charged Russian national Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, with conspiring to interfere in U.S. midterm elections. That same month, Justice Department officials accused seven Russians of acting as officers for Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, and charged them with hacking and wire fraud, among other charges.

In a new year letter addressed to President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed a desire to improve U.S.-Russia relations in 2019, The Guardian reported. In a statement, Kremlin officials said Putin's letter stressed that U.S.-Russia relations are "the most important factor for providing strategic stability and international security," according to The Guardian.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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