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Hunt: Briton whelan must not be used as pawn by Russia

The Foreign Secretary made the comments after Paul Whelan, a US Marine and dual British national, was detained in Moscow

Jan 05


Jeremy Hunt has warned Russia not to use UK citizens as pawns in “diplomatic chess games” after a former US Marine was arrested on spying charges.

The Foreign Secretary said Paul Whelan, a 48-year-old who lives in Michigan in the US, was being given “every support that we can” after it emerged that he was a dual British national.

Speaking during a formal visit to Singapore, Mr Hunt told reporters that “individuals should not be used as pawns of diplomatic leverage”.

He added: “We are giving him every support that we can, but we don’t agree with individuals being used in diplomatic chess games. “Because it is desperately worrying, not just for the individual but their families, and we are extremely worried about him and his family as we hear this news.”

Mr Whelan, 48, was arrested in Moscow last week apparently on espionage charges.

His twin, David Whelan, said his brother’s “innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected”. Later, speaking on behalf of Paul Whelan’s family,

David Whelan said: “We are relieved and very pleased to know that staff of the US Embassy in Moscow have been given consular access to Paul and confirmed that he is safe.

“We deeply appreciate Ambassador Huntsman’s commitment to stay in regular contact with Paul during his detention and his assurances that Paul’s rights will be respected. “Our focus remains on ensuring that Paul is safe, well treated, has a good lawyer, and is coming home. We urge the US Congress and the State Department to help on Paul’s behalf to secure his release and return him home soon.”

The detention comes at a time when diplomatic tensions between Russia and the UK are particularly strained. Accusations made by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson that the Kremlin was behind the nerve agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury last year were dismissed by Vladimir Putin.

Further testimony during the recent Old Bailey inquest linking Russia with the death of UK-based multimillionaire Alexander Perepilichnyy, before he was due to testify in accusations of serious organised crime in the eastern European country, did little to soothe relations.