Russia arrests US-Russian citizen on treason charges

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Russia has arrested a US-Russian dual citizen on treason charges for allegedly raising funds on behalf of Ukraine’s army.

The FSB security service said the unnamed woman lived in Los Angeles and had organised fundraisers for a Ukrainian group that spent the money on medical supplies, equipment, weapons and ammunition, according to Russian newswires.

It published a video of the woman, whose face was blurred out, being arrested and held in a court in Ekaterinburg, where she was denied bail.

The First Department, a collective of lawyers dealing with cases of alleged treason and espionage in Russia, said the woman was Ksenia Khavana, 32.

Khavana was first arrested in late January outside a cinema in Ekaterinburg, the largest city in Russia’s central Ural region, on charges of violating public order and sentenced to 14 days in detention.

FSB officers took part in her initial arrest then charged her with treason this month, the First Department said in a post on Telegram. Detaining suspects on minor allegations ahead of more serious criminal charges is common practice in Russia.

Khavana is charged with sending $51.80 from her US bank account to Razom for Ukraine, a New York-based non-profit group, on the day President Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Russia’s neighbour in 2022, they added.

A lawyer for Khavana filed an appeal against her pre-trial detention on the treason charges on Monday. Khavana studied in Ekaterinburg before moving to the US. She became a citizen in 2021 and works as a spa manager at a hotel in Beverly Hills, according to her social media accounts.

Moscow has arrested several US citizens in recent years and exchanged some of them for valuable Russians in western custody. In 2022, it released US basketball star Brittney Griner, who pleaded guilty to drug charges, in exchange for Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death”.

A Moscow city court rejected the latest appeal by Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on Tuesday. The FSB arrested Gershkovich on espionage charges in Ekaterinburg last year. The Wall Street Journal and the US vehemently deny the charges against him.

Putin hinted this month that he wanted to exchange Gershkovich for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian assassin serving a life sentence for the murder of former Chechen rebel Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin in 2019.

In a recent interview with US conservative firebrand Tucker Carlson, Putin said: “I do not rule out that the person you refer to, Mr Gershkovich, may return to his motherland. We want the US special services to think about how they can contribute to achieving the goals our special services are pursuing.”

US Marine veteran Paul Whelan was convicted on espionage charges in Russia in 2020 and is serving a 16-year sentence in a rural prison colony. The US, Gershkovich and Whelan vehemently deny the charges.

Another US-Russian dual citizen, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter Alsu Kurmasheva, is being held after she was arrested in October on charges of violating a law on “foreign agents”.

The US embassy in Moscow did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest detention.

The FSB has also dramatically increased its prosecutions of Russian citizens for treason, espionage and “collaborating with foreign states or organisations” since the start of the Ukraine war.

In 2023, at least 101 people in Russia were charged under those three statutes, more than the past several years combined, according to a tally by Mediazona, an independent news outlet.

In that time, 63 people were charged with treason and 37 of them were found guilty, according to the First Department.

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