DETROIT — As a staff sergeant with the Marines in Iraq, Paul Whelan enjoyed fine cigars and showed an affinity for Russia — even spending two weeks of military leave in Moscow and St. Petersburg instead of at home in the U.S. with family and friends.
The 48-year-old Detroit-area man had an account on a Russian social media site, where he posted festive notes on the country’s national holidays.
Now, he’s under arrest there on espionage allegations.
Whelan has visited Russia since at least 2007 and was there again for a friend’s wedding, showing other guests around, said his twin brother, David Whelan. He was due to return home on Jan. 6, the brother said.
U.S. officials are seeking answers about Paul Whelan’s arrest on spying charges. The Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, said Whelan was caught “during an espionage operation,” but gave no details.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. visited Whelan on Wednesday in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, the State Department said.
“Ambassador Huntsman expressed his support for Mr. Whelan and offered the embassy’s assistance,” it said.
He also spoke by phone with Whelan’s family, the statement added, but did not disclose any details “due to privacy considerations for Mr. Whelan and his family.”
According to what to appears to be Paul Whelan’s profile on the popular Russian social media platform VKontakte, he posted “God save President Trump” — flanked by flag emojis — on Inauguration Day in 2016. A 2010 post referred to then-President Barack Obama as a “moron.”
Another photo showed Whelan wearing a T-shirt of the Moscow soccer club Spartak. In March 2014, around the time of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Whelan suggested that “Putin can have Alaska, as long as he takes Sarah Palin, too!” And a photo posted in August shows Whelan attending a security conference organized by the U.S. State Department.