Moscow, Russia: Russia’s domestic security agency said Monday that it has arrested a U.S. citizen on espionage charges.
The Federal Security Service, or FSB, the top KGB successor agency, said that Paul Whelan was detained in Moscow on Friday. The agency said in Monday’s statement that he was caught “during an espionage operation,” but didn’t give any details.
Spying charges carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years in Russia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the U.S. Embassy was duly notified about the arrest, but wouldn’t give any further information.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow had no immediate comment.
The arrest comes as Russia-U.S. ties have sunk to post-Cold War lows over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Alexander Mikhailov, a retired FSB officer, said the arrest reflected the effectiveness of Russian counterintelligence.
“The service wouldn’t have made this information public unless it had solid evidence,” he told the RIA Novosti news agency.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Russia had notified it that a U.S. citizen had been detained and it expected Moscow to provide consular access to see him.
“We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it,” the spokesperson said, without providing details of the identity of the American or the reasons behind his detention.
The English-language service of TASS news agency named him as Paul Whelan but Reuters was unable to independently confirm the exact spelling of his name. The State Department did not identify him.
Under Russian law, espionage can carry between 10 and 20 years in prison.
Russia’s relations with the United States plummeted when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Washington and Western allies have imposed a broad range of sanctions on Russian officials, companies and banks.
Earlier this month Russian national Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to a conspiracy charge in a deal with prosecutors, and admitted to working with a top Russian official to infiltrate American conservative activist groups and politicians as an agent for Moscow.