“Paul Whelan I believe was taken as a leverage for Vladimir Putin in response to the Maria Butina prosecution in Washington,” says Russia critic @Billbrowder.
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) January 2, 2019
Russia critic and financier behind the Magnitsky Act Bill Browder says that Russian authorities arrested U.S. Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan in a retaliatory move days ago in a bid to obtain leverage over the United States over the arrest and prosecution of accused Russian spy Maria Butina.
Browder appeared on CNN’s At This Hour with host Ana Cabrera on Wednesday morning to offer his insight on the situation.
“What is your reaction to the charges against Whelan?” Cabrera asked.
To which Browder replied:
In my opinion, based on what I know, this is a hostage situation. Paul Whelan I believe was taken as a leverage for Vladimir Putin in response to the Maria Butina prosecution in Washington. And Vladimir Putin very much doesn’t want her to talk to U.S. authorities. And he was in a very weak position and he needed to change that negotiating position, and so he looked for a hostage. And I believe that the Paul Whelan arrest fits right into that pattern of behavior.
As Law&Crime previously reported, Whelan was arrested in Moscow on December 28 and accused of “carrying out an act of espionage,” by Russian authorities–essentially spying charges. The former Marine’s family insists that he was simply visiting Moscow in order to attend a wedding. The family apparently only learned of Whelan’s detention after it was reported by the news media.
“What does Putin want to get out of this?” Cabrera asked. “What’s his end game?”
Well, Putin is in a very bad position. There is a woman who has plead guilty to trying to disrupt the U.S. political process. That woman is connected to a man named [Aleksandr] Torshin. Torshin was a Russian government official who worked for Vladimir Putin. And so this the most direct evidence yet of that Vladimir Putin was trying to influence the outcome of the U.S. election and Putin doesn’t want that to go to fruition. And so needs to try to create some type of counterpoint. And the best counterpoint is to take a former Marine who was visiting Russia for a wedding, grab him, accuse him of espionage and then create a negotiating position out of that.
Browder is considered an authority on Russian matters due to his management of an investment fund which was for a time the largest foreign portfolio investment in the entire Russian Federation. Ties between Browder and Russia later soured. He was eventually tried in absentia and convicted on charges of tax evasion–after previously renouncing his U.S. citizenship in order to avoid paying taxes on his foreign investments.
Putin, for his part, previously said that Russia would never do anything like what Browder is suggesting.
[image via screengrab/CNN]