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Dmitri Peskov, Press Secretary for the President of Russia, stated that Russia never uses people “as pawns in diplomatic games,” during a conference call with journalists in Moscow on Wednesday. He was commenting on rumours of an alleged spy swap of detained US Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan and Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina.

“I can confirm that in Russia we do conduct counter-intelligence activities against those who are suspected of espionage on a regular base. But we have never used people as pawns,” he said.

According to the Russian Security Service (FSB), Whelan was detained in Moscow on December 28 as he was caught red-handed while carrying out spying activities, with a USB stick that allegedly holds the data of individuals working for Russian Government security agencies. The FSB investigative department has opened a criminal case of espionage against Whelan, who faces up to 20 years in prison if he is found guilty.

Maria Butina, a former student at American University and a gun rights activists, was charged by prosecutors in July with acting as a foreign agent and conspiring against the US government.

Speaking about reasons for the World Anti-Doping Agency inspection team’s failed attempt to retrieve data from doping samples of Russian athletes from 2011 to 2015 from the Moscow anti-doping laboratory in December, Peskov claimed it was “an issue of logistics.”

“You know data was already prepared for being handed over last time. Then certain operational differences related to what data storage device is used, what way and so on emerged,” he explained.

Peskov stressed that for now the Russian sport departments and WADA are in close touch and have agreed “on further work.”

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