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US marks anniversary of Paul Whelan’s detention in Russia

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WASHINGTON– The Biden administration is marking the fourth anniversary of the detention in Russia of American businessman Paul Whelan, whose continued detention is one of the main irritants in the tattered relationship between Washington and Moscow.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday that securing Whelan’s release remains a top administration priority.

US officials had hoped to include Whelan in a prisoner swap earlier this month in which they swapped detained WNBA star Brittney Griner for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The administration considers Whelan, like Griner, to have been wrongfully detained.

Blinken said Whelan and his family “are suffering an unfathomable ordeal” and he again condemned the American’s conviction, which was based on secret evidence, and a 16-year prison sentence.

“His detention remains unacceptable and we continue to press for his immediate release at every opportunity,” Blinken said. “Our efforts to secure Paul’s release will not cease until he returns home with his family to which he belongs.”

Whelan, a corporate security official from Michigan, is imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges that his family and the US government have declared baseless. U.S. officials said Russia declined to consider including Whelan in the Griner deal, calling it a “one or none” decision.

“Paul and the Whelan family recently showed the nation a sense of generosity of spirit by celebrating the return of a fellow American as Russia continues its deplorable treatment of Paul as a bargaining chip,” said the National Security Advisor to President Joe Biden, Jake Sullivan.

The Whelan family supported the swap that freed Griner, but expressed fears that Whelan would not be freed for years.

His brother, David Whelan, said when the trade was announced: “I think we all realize that the math isn’t going to work for Paul to come home anytime soon unless the US government is able to find concessions.”

Paul Whelan, 52, was sentenced in 2020.

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