Arrest of American “spy” in Russia takes surreal turn

Is Paul Whelan really an American spy who was caught snooping around in Russia, as Vladimir Putin claims? We have no idea. We’re certainly not willing to take Putin’s word for it. But even as Russia continues to detain Whelan, the saga keeps getting stranger. It seems obvious that Putin is hoping to trade Whelan to the U.S. in exchange for Maria Butina or some other Russian asset. But Whelan’s role in this just became rather strange.

Any cursory search of Paul Whelan’s background reveals that he’s a big fan of Donald Trump, as well as a big fan of Russia, and he appears to have done significant contracting work involving Russia. But even accounting for all of that, this new statement from Whelan about a potential prisoner exchange is more than a bit over the top: “I myself hope that we can rescue and bring home one Russian soul.” Wait, what?

Whelan doesn’t sound like an innocent American who’s been wrongly arrested by the Russian government for political purposes. He sounds like a Russian asset. It’s worth keeping in mind that he’s currently in custody, and that Russia doesn’t exactly have a reputation for treating its prisoners appropriately. So it’s possible he’s being coerced into saying this. But what if he’s not?

Paul Whelan has also hired a Russian attorney who represents Russian suspects. At this point we have to at least ask if it’s possible that Whelan is in on this with Russia, and that he helped choreograph his own arrest in order to give Putin leverage to get a Russian asset back in return. We’re not accusing Whelan of this; it’s just that based on his words, if he’s not being coerced, it would seemingly be the only other logical explanation.