The Biden administration on Wednesday renewed its commitment to securing the release of American Paul Whelan on the fourth anniversary of his wrongful detention in Russia, as Whelan’s family expressed hope that he would not mark a new stage in the Russian prison.
“Today marks four years that Paul Whelan has been unjustly detained, away from his family, suffering unfathomable ordeal,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “His detention remains unacceptable and we continue to press for his immediate release at every opportunity.”
President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, echoed that message, saying, “As the president and I told the Whelan family, we won’t stop, we won’t back down, we We won’t stop until all Americans can celebrate Paul’s return.
Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 on espionage charges which he vehemently denied. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.
US officials were unable to secure his release in prisoner swaps last year, which resulted in the release of two other Americans wrongfully detained in Russia: Trevor Reed in April and Brittney Griner in mid-December. Several U.S. officials said after Griner’s release that the Russians refused to negotiate a deal for Whelan, and CNN reported that Moscow repeatedly demanded a convicted murderer who is being held by the Germans in exchange for the ex-Marine .
Whelan, who called CNN exclusively from his remote penal colony in the hours after Griner’s release, said he hoped Biden and his administration would “do whatever they can to get me home, whatever. whatever price they might have to pay at this point”.
“I was arrested for a crime that never happened,” he said. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
In a post on Wednesday, Whelan’s brother David wrote: “How do you mark such a terrible milestone when there is no resolution in sight?”
“This is both horrific and commonplace, just another day that Paul has to suffer in a Russian labor camp for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Another day that our parents have to suffer without being able to see or be with their son,” David Whelan said.
“It’s both the culmination of a lost life – four years of missed birthdays, Christmases and other experiences – and not a full stop,” he continued. “It’s just a marker of their suffering, not an indicator that the suffering will end until another milestone, another year passes.”
Whelan’s sister Elizabeth told CNN it’s “a sign of weakness that the Russian authorities are continuing this practice of hostage diplomacy by refusing to release my brother, who they know full well has been arrested. and convicted on charges they themselves made up”.
David Whelan said his family continues “to be grateful for the efforts of the US government to persuade the Kremlin to release Paul.”
“I hope these efforts will be crowned with success. Hopefully Paul can stop by our parents and visit them, free at last, before another stage passes. On milestones, sometimes all you have is hope,” he wrote.