Over the holidays, a former US Marine who was born in Canada was arrested in Russia on spying charges. Russia has provided very few details on the arrest, other than saying he was caught in the middle of a spy mission. Now he is facing up to 20 years in a Russian prison.
His brother, David Whelan who lives in Newmarket, Ontario, tells a completely different story. He says the accusations are completely unfounded and that Whelan is definitely not a spy. David Whelan also said that his brother was in Russia for a wedding when all of a sudden he disappeared.
The same day that the news broke of Paul Whelan's arrest, the Canadian government updated their travel advisory for Russia, warning Canadian travels to avoid all travel to some parts of the country.
According to the warning issued by the government, Canadians are being advised to avoid all travel in several areas of Russia's western border, including Chechnya, Dagestan, and other areas that border Ukraine.
While chances that the travel warning and recent arrest are related are slim, their timing does point to the fact that tensions in Russia and especially with western countries are exceedingly and dangerously high.
The government of Canada cites safety and security issues for the reason behind the warning. The warning specifically mentions military operations, random kidnappings, and terrorist threats. They also warn all Canadians that if they choose to go there, the Canadian embassy in Russia cannot help them.
Along some of Russia's western regions, the country has declared a state of emergency due to the military situation there with high chances of violence and armed activity in the area. On top of that, kidnapping for ransom is common as are regular threats of terrorism.
The conflict isn't just high within Russia itself but also when it comes to international relation. Currently, tensions are high between Russia and the US after accusations that Russia interfered in the 2016 US election. Russia also has increased tensions with Canada as we have aided Ukraine in their conflict with them.
Again, while it is unclear whether the arrest is a retaliatory measure or at all related to the recent travel warnings, both incidents indicate that both Canadians and Americans should avoid travelling to Russia right now.
The advisory says that Canadians that are currently travelling in the listed regions should leave immediately. "The ability of the embassy in Moscow to provide assistance is severely limited or non-existent," the advisory reads. To read the full travel warning, click here.