"Paul Whelan could become a poster child for officials in the US and the West pushing for a harder line on Russian Federation". But Whelan, a MI resident, also has family ties that allowed him to qualify for British and Irish citizenship.
On Thursday, Whelan, security chief for global auto parts manufacturer BorgWarner, was formally charged with espionage and could face 20 years in prison.
Maria Butina's plea bargain with US authorities was made public only two weeks before Mr. Whelan's arrest. "We are extremely anxious about him and his family".
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow could not immediately be reached for comment, the news agency reported.
Russian Federation yesterday said it wanted an explanation from Washington over the arrest of one of its nationals, as Moscow continued to hold a U.S. citizen for alleged espionage. And Russia's domestic security service claims he was carrying out a "spy mission".
A bail application to secure Whelan's release from Russian custody is pending.
In recent months, the United States, Britain and Canada have been harmonizing their criticisms of Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged acts of aggression and interference against the West.
On Saturday, the Russian foreign ministry said a Russian had been detained the day after Whelan's arrest in the US Pacific territory of the Northern Mariana Islands and transferred to Florida.
Whelan's brother, David Whelan, said in an interview Tuesday that he had no idea why his brother was targeted by the Russian security services.
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There has been speculation he could be used to barter for the release of Russian national Maria Butina, who was jailed in the USA after admitting acting as a secret agent for the Kremlin.
He left the company in 2016, moving to become director of global security for US-based automotive components supplier BorgWarner.
He said his brother's arrest appeared to be "very arbitrary", and that while he liked to travel and "interact with the people in the places that he goes", he would be too "conspicuous" to be a spy. The brother said Whelan only speaks rudimentary English.
They believe he has been unwittingly been caught up in the spy game and that Russian Federation is using him as a pawn to try and get back one of its spies, Maria Butina, who is in a us prison on charges of espionage.
Whelan's lawyer said on Thursday that he was detained in Moscow last week and charged with espionage.
His family has denied he is a spy, saying he was visiting Moscow to attend the wedding of a fellow former marine to a Russian woman.
"We are relieved and very pleased to know that staff of the USA embassy in Moscow have been given consular access to Paul and confirmed that he is safe", the family's statement said.
"There was an ongoing competition with his sister to see who could get the most", the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that Washington had asked Moscow to explain Whelan's arrest and would demand his immediate return if it determined his detention was inappropriate.