Russia claims US citizen was arrested 'in the act of spying'

Russia said yesterday its security services had detained a US citizen in Moscow accused of spying, the latest in a series of espionage cases between Russia and the west.

The FSB domestic security service said the American was arrested on Friday “while carrying out an act of espionage”.

It said a criminal case had been opened under an article of the Russian criminal code which allows for sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

The statement identified the American in Russian, using a name that appeared to translate as Paul Whelan.

The arrest came with Moscow embroiled in a number of spy scandals with the west and after President Vladimir Putin accused western nations of using espionage cases to try to undermine an increasingly powerful Russia.

US intelligence services have accused Moscow of interfering in the 2016 presidential election and, earlier this month, convicted Russian Maria Butina of acting as an illegal foreign agent. She faces up to six months in prison, followed by likely deportation.

Prosecutors said she launched a plan in March 2015 to develop ties with the Republican Party with the aim of influencing US foreign policy.

Russian intelligence agents were also accused in the poisoning earlier this year of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.

Relations between Russia and the west have hit a new low following the incidents.

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