Kremlin: US citizen not detained as 'pawn in diplomatic game'

A Kremlin spokesman on Wednesday said that Russia does not use people as "pawns in a diplomatic game," while addressing the case of an American citizen who was detained in the country on espionage allegations.

"In Russia people are never used as pawns in a diplomatic game," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked about Paul Whelan, according to Russian news agency TASS.

"Russia conducts counterintelligence activity against those who are suspected of espionage, this is done on a regular basis," he added.

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Peskov said he has not heard about any proposal to swap Whelan for Maria Butina, a Russian citizen who is facing jail time in the U.S.

Whelan, who works as a security executive for automotive parts maker BorgWarner in Michigan, was detained late last month in Russia on suspicion of espionage. Whelan's twin brother said his sibling was in Moscow for a wedding between a fellow ex-Marine and a Russian woman at the time, and insisted that Whelan is innocent.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman last week visited with Whelan in the Lefortovo Detention Facility.

Whelan's arrest comes amid strained relations between the U.S. and Russia. 

Butina pleaded guilty in December to acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government in the U.S.

She faces a maximum of five years in prison. Russia has called for her release.