On Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, visited Whelan in a Moscow detention facility, marking the first contact U.S. officials have had with him since he was arrested at a hotel during a visit to attend a wedding in the Russian capital.
The visit came a few hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he expected officials from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to be given access to Whelan within hours. Pompeo said they need to learn more about why Whelan was detained last Friday.
The timing of Whelan’s arrest — coming weeks after Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina pleaded guilty to Kremlin interference in the United States — has raised questions about a potential swap. The two countries do not have an extradition treaty.
The arrest of and guilty plea by Butina, 30, have become a sharp thorn in the side of U.S.-Russian relations. Butina is the first Russian national to be convicted of seeking to influence U.S. policy in the 2016 election campaign, and Moscow has gone to great lengths to paint her as a political prisoner.