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A US Citizen Has Been Arrested On Spying Charges In Moscow, Russian Authorities Say

The man, named as Paul Whelan, could face up to 20 years in jail if the charges are proven, according to one news agency.

Last updated on December 31, 2018, at 10:43 a.m. ET

Posted on December 31, 2018, at 9:07 a.m. ET

Mladen Antonov / AFP / Getty Images

A Russian flag flies next to the US Embassy building in Moscow.

A US citizen has been arrested by Russian security forces in Moscow on suspicion of spying, according to reports from Russian news agencies.

Russia's Federal Security Service, the FSB, named the man as Paul Whelan and confirmed that he was arrested on Friday and that a criminal investigation was underway.

β€œOn December 28, 2018, staff members of the Russian Federal Security Service detained US citizen Paul Whelan in Moscow while on a spy mission,” the FSB said.

TASS, a news agency owned and controlled by the Russian government, said Whelan could face between 10 and 20 years in jail if convicted. The Russian-controlled Sputnik agency also reported this.

A US State Department spokesperson said that it had formally been made aware of the arrest by Russia's foreign ministry and had requested consular access to Whelan, which is guaranteed under the Vienna Convention, which the department expects to be granted. The spokesperson wouldn't divulge any other details, citing privacy concerns.

The incident is the latest in a worsening diplomatic rift between the US and Russia. This month, Russian national Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring as a foreign agent. She had previously carried out a campaign to influence the National Rifle Association and other conservative-leaning US groups, before the 2016 general election.

In March this year, Moscow expelled scores of foreign diplomats from the US and other countries that supported the UK in squarely blaming Russia for the attempted murder of former Russian military spy Sergei Skripal, who had defected to and still lives in the UK.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates and follow BuzzFeed News on Twitter.‏

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