American accused of spying in Moscow had plenty of ‘friends’ with Russian military ties – report
The former US marine detained in Moscow on spying charges had for long been a user of the Russian social media network VK, and almost half of the people he chatted with there seem to have links to the Russian military.
Paul Whelan, who also holds British, Irish and Canadian citizenships, seemed to have a particular penchant for Russia. His account on Russia’s most popular social network, VK, is more than a decade old although he had just 55 friends. But nearly half of them, notably, had either a military education or a history of military service, Reuters reports.
At least 12 of his friends on VK had received military education in Russia, while another 11 apparently had served in the Russian Army, the report says, adding that the list of Whelan’s acquaintances also includes people from the IT, engineering or civil aviation circles.Also on rt.com Citizen of the world: Ex-Marine detained in Russia on espionage charges holds multiple passports
RT was able to find what appears to be Whelan’s social media account on VK. The social media page contains a handful of images, including some pictures mocking former US President Barack Obama and supporting Russia’s re-unification with Crimea. The page is also filled with short posts in English and Russian, mostly various holiday greetings on occasions ranging from Russia’s Victory Day to Canada Day or Christmas. Several of his posts also seemingly express support for President Donald Trump.
Among his ‘friends’ there are at least half a dozen of graduates of Russian military higher education institutions, including the Russian Defense Ministry’s Military University – one of the leading educational and scientific centers of the Russian Armed Forces. Other educational facilities Whelan’s acquaintances graduated from include several military engineering universities and the Civil Defense Academy of the Russian Emergencies Ministry. There are also several doctors, specialists in civil engineering and construction, as well as in civil aviation and water transport.
Earlier, the Russian KP daily also reported about Whelan's contacts with Russian military graduates and talked to two of his acquaintances. However, both men said the American never asked them about their education or work but instead talked about the US, his own past and his desire to learn Russian. Most Russian contacts of Whelan, 48, are men in their 20s, and none of them seemed to hold any high ranks in the Russian military.
It remains unclear what was behind Whelan’s choice of his Russian ‘friends’. The former marine’s brother told Reuters that such a course of action would be only natural for a man with a military background, who sought to find like-minded individuals in a new country. He insists that his sibling is no spy.
“I didn't know he had a VK account before last week. But I’m not surprised that he had friends on social media, both Facebook and VK that had military backgrounds just as he had a military background," he told Reuters.
Meanwhile, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo added more controversy to Whelan's case when he refused to unequivocally confirm that the man is not a spy. “For a lot of reasons, I can’t say much more about that particular case,” Pompeo told Fox News on Friday, when asked if the detained former marine was spying for the US or not.
Whelan was detained by the Russian FSB just before New Year's Eve. He was put in custody and charged with espionage a few days later, facing between 10 to 20 years in prison if found guilty. His relatives maintain he came to Russia as a tourist to attend the wedding of his friend.Also on rt.com ‘Caught in the act of spying’: US citizen detained in Moscow ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations
Details of this case remain sparse. However, some western media have, apparently, already made up their mind about the outcome of the story. CNN and CBS both alleged that Whelan might be swapped for the Russian gun advocacy activist Marina Butina, arrested in the US on charges of acting as an unregistered lobbyist.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, denied any such plans. “There is no talk about swapping Paul Whelan for anyone held in custody abroad,” the ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing on Friday, calling all such reports "speculation and fake news."
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