3 big questions about the curious Paul Whelan ‘spy’ case

07 Jan 2019

(WP) Just days into the new year, foreign policy analysts are already rerunning a decades-old show: “What’s Russia thinking?”

The prompt this time around was the New Year’s Eve arrest of Paul Whelan, an ex-Marine with four passports and a professed love for Russia who allegedly came to Moscow to attend a wedding but ended up getting arrested and accused of obtaining a USB drive containing the full staff directory of one of Russia’s many secret services. Why Whelan? Why now? What happens next?

The academic’s answer to the “What’s Russia thinking?” question is invariably “We don’t know” — at least not in the theory-driven, hypothesis-testing, evidence-based way we usually think about knowledge. We do not and cannot know who ordered Whelan’s arrest and on what basis. We don’t know whether Russian President Vladimir Putin was involved. And we can’t calculate exactly what the Kremlin — or the White House, for that matter — will do next. [...]

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