FILE PHOTO: A flag flies behind an enclosure on the territory of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Russia March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s FSB state security service said on Monday it had detained an American citizen suspected of spying in Moscow and had opened a criminal case against him.
The FSB said the American had been detained on December 28 but it gave no details of the nature of his alleged espionage activities.
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.
Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Will Dunham in Washington; Editing by Richard Balmforth