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Paul Whelan holds up a message inside a defendants' cage in Moscow. Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP

Russian prosecutors on Monday asked for the maximum 18-year jail term for former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is on trial for espionage charges that he denies, Reuters reports.

The state of play: Whelan, an American citizen who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 after allegedly receiving a USB drive containing classified information. Whelan claims he did not know it was classified material and says it was a sting operation set up by Russian intelligence.

  • The details of Whelan's trial, which is expected to produce a verdict on June 15, have been kept relatively quiet as Russia claims the case involves classified information.
  • But Whelan's lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, has been revealing details to the press: “The prosecution has made a very harsh demand, it’s absolutely unjustified and groundless. To be honest, we’re in shock," Zherebenkov said Monday.

What they're saying: U.S. officials have called for Wheelan’s release, describing his case as a “significant obstacle” to improving bilateral ties between Russia and the U.S.

  • U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan said, "There is no legitimacy to a procedure that is hidden behind closed doors. It is not transparent, it is not fair, and it is not impartial."

Go deeper: Trump confidant lobbying to free U.S. citizen Paul Whelan from Russia

Go deeper

Updated Aug 25, 2020 - World

U.S. says Russia must investigate poisoning of Putin critic Alexei Navalny

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Photo: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said Tuesday that Russia must conduct an "immediate, comprehensive, and transparent investigation" on the apparent poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later issued a statement saying he is "deeply concerned" and supports calls for a "comprehensive investigation."

Why it matters: Sullivan's statement was the first from a top American official demanding that Russia take action since Navalny was first admitted to a hospital last week.

2 hours ago - Health

India crosses 1 billion COVID vaccinations milestone

A health worker inoculates a COVID-19 vaccine dose to a man wearing a face mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Beawar, India, in September. Photo: Sumit Saraswat/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Thursday that the country's health workers have now administered more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines doses.

Of note: While this is a significant milestone for the country of 1.4 billion, which has been devastated by the coronavirus, only about 30% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, per AP. Roughly 75% has received at least one dose.

Trump says he plans to launch new social media network in 2022

Photo: Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Trump on Wednesday announced plans to launch a social media network called "Truth Social," and that it would go public via a SPAC.

Why it matters: Most ex-presidents are focused on their legacies, by creating presidential libraries or engaging in philanthropic endeavors. Trump, however, remains consumed by social media.