U.S. to Demand Russia Release American 'Spy' Arrested in Moscow

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the country would demand that Russia immediately release an American man detained in Moscow on suspicion of spying. Speaking in Brazil on Wednesday, Pompeo said the U.S. government wanted an explanation for why Paul Whelan—a 48-year-old former Marine from Michigan—was arrested last Friday.

According to Reuters, Pompeo said the U.S. was hoping to gain consular access to Whelan at some point on Wednesday. He explained the U.S. had "made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges, come to understand what it is he's been accused of, and if the detention is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate return."

Read More: American Paul Whelan arrested in Russia on spy charges as potential retribution for Maria Butina

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said Whelan had been arrested on suspicion of carrying out an act of espionage, CNN reported. Russia has not said exactly what Whelan was accused of doing, and his family has rejected any suggestion he was spying. Spying charges in Russia carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years, The Associated Press noted.

His twin brother, David, told the BBC on Tuesday that Paul had been scheduled to fly back to the U.S. on January 6. He explained that Paul was in Russia to attend the wedding of a fellow former Marine to a Russian citizen. He had apparently been planning to travel to St. Petersburg after his time in Moscow.

David explained the family only learned of his arrest on Monday through media reports. David said his brother knew Russia well and could not believe he would have broken any laws. Paul had been traveling to Russia since 2007 while working in corporate security and the automotive industry.

Paul had also worked in law enforcement in the U.S., in addition to his military service. "I can't imagine how someone with a law enforcement background who is also a former U.S. Marine, and who is now working in corporate security and is also aware of the risks of travel, would have broken any law let alone the law related to espionage," David told the BBC.

A family statement said, "We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being. His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected."

All three of Paul's siblings have contacted congressional representatives in the hope of applying further pressure on the Russian government. David also described the U.S. Embassy and State Department as having been "very helpful."

Kremlin Moscow Russia
A man traverses a bridge spanning the Moskva River in front of the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower and St Basil's Cathedral in downtown Moscow, on November 30. Paul Whelan was arrested in the city last Friday on suspicion of espionage. YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images