Blinken Holds Third Conversation with Paul Whelan, American Detained in Russia

Blinken (Credits: RFE/RL)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken disclosed that he engaged in a conversation with Paul Whelan, an American entrepreneur held under what the U.S. considers wrongful detention in Russia, during an event on hostage diplomacy at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Blinken emphasized the ongoing commitment to bring Whelan and other Americans wrongfully detained back home, expressing determination in the efforts.

This marks the third time Blinken has spoken with Whelan, who has been incarcerated in Russia since 2018 on charges of espionage, a label the U.S. deems baseless. Whelan received a 16-year prison sentence in 2020.

Blinken (Credits: Axios)

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller conveyed that Blinken assured Whelan of the dedicated efforts by the U.S. to secure his release. Miller highlighted the unwavering commitment of both Secretary Blinken and President Biden to make this a top priority.

In response to these developments, David Whelan, Paul’s brother, communicated via email with CBS News, downplaying any optimistic interpretation of the phone call.

David expressed skepticism, suggesting that the call merely indicated the ongoing effort of the U.S. government to reassure Paul about their commitment to securing his freedom.

He acknowledged that such calls have a positive impact on Paul and their parents’ morale. David also mentioned that the call was originally intended for January but faced logistical challenges on Paul Whelan’s end.

The meeting between President Biden and Paul Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth, in January at the White House raised the profile of the case, prompting repeated calls from Whelan’s family for increased efforts by the administration to secure his release.

Back in December, the State Department announced a “new and significant” proposal to Russia for the release of both Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. Gershkovich had been arrested in March of the same year on espionage charges during a reporting trip.

The U.S. has also asserted Gershkovich’s wrongful detention, but the proposed solution was rejected by Russia. Miller confirmed that the U.S. had made multiple offers to secure their release, and despite the rejection, the efforts would persist.

Miller, in a briefing on Monday, stated that the U.S. has tabled offers “more than once” in an attempt to bring about the release of Whelan and Gershkovich. He underscored the commitment to engage and pursue their release, emphasizing the ongoing dedication of the U.S. government to resolving the situation.

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