The Russian government finally officially announced Friday it has charged U.S. citizen Paul Whelan with espionage.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova did not deny the possibility Whelan could be used in a trade that brings admitted foreign agent Maria Butina back to Russia but said no swap is possible until after Whelan is convicted.
Whelan was charged under Article 276 of Russia's criminal code, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters at a televised briefing.
Whelan, a former United States Marine, was detained Dec. 28 by Russia's domestic intelligence agency, the FSB, which accused him of espionage. His Russian lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, has said Whelan contests the charge and intends to plead not guilty.
Russian news agency Interfax reported on Jan. 3 that Whelan had been formally charged, citing anonymous security service sources. But Zakharova's comments on Friday were Russia's first public confirmation of it.
Russia has still not provided any details of the charge against Whelan. Announcing his arrest, the FSB said he had been detained while conducting "spying activity" but has not elaborated.
The foreign ministry spokeswoman also said Friday that exchanging Whelan for anyone imprisoned outside Russia was not being considered.
"I'd like to underline that the exchange of Paul Whelan for anyone incarcerated abroad is currently not on the table," Zakharova said, according to Russian news agency Interfax. "The defendant will stand trial."
Zherebenkov has suggested that Whelan could later be exchanged for Russians held in U.S. jails, including [Maria] Butina. He noted, however, that Whelan could only be traded once he has been convicted.