Russia announced on Monday that its intelligence agency had arrested a US citizen in Moscow on suspicion of espionage.
According to the FSB, the American was arrested on Friday “while carrying out spying activity”.
Charges have been brought against him according to article 276 of Russia’s Criminal Code (Espionage), which envisages a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
The suspect was identified as Paul Whelan, but no other details were provided.
The US later asked to be granted consular access to their citizen, a US State Department representative told Voice of America.
“We have been officially notified about the arrest (of a US citizen) by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Russia’s obligations, according to the Vienna Convention, require that it grant consular access,” the representative is cited as saying.
“We have demanded this access and expect that the Russian authorities will grant it,” the source added.
The arrest took place in the wake of several espionage scandals between Moscow and the West. It was preceded by a statement by President Vladimir Putin, who accused the west of using espionage cases to undermine Russia’s growing might.
US intelligence has accused Moscow of interfering in the US 2016 presidential elections. Earlier in December, the Russian citizen Maria Butina was charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, and is facing up to six months in prison and a probable subsequent deportation.
The prosecution believes that Butina had been working since March 2015 to develop ties to the Republican Party in order to influence US foreign policy.
Earlier in 2018, two Russian intelligence agents were accused of poisoning former MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England. The Skripals survived, but another local woman died due to coming in contact with the same nerve agent through a discarded perfume bottle, which the police believe was used for the attack.
Moscow’s relations with the West have reached new lows in the wake of these incidents. The US and EU have imposed a new wave of sanctions on Russia due to the espionage scandals and the conflict in Ukraine.
At an annual press conference earlier in December, Putin claimed that the West’s pressure has “only one goal – to restrain Russia’s development as a possible competitor”.