US marks anniversary of Paul Whelan’s detention in Russia

US marks anniversary of Paul Whelan’s detention in Russia

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is marking the fourth anniversary of the detention in Russia of American businessman Paul Whelan, whose continued imprisonment is one of several major irritants in frayed relations between Washington and Moscow.

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

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

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

“His arrest remains unacceptable and we continue to press for his immediate release in any case,” Blinken said. “Our efforts to secure Paul’s release will not rest until he is back home with his family where he belongs.”

Whelan, a corporate security executive in Michigan, has been jailed in Russia on espionage charges that his family and the US government have said are baseless. U.S. officials said Russia refused to consider Whelan’s involvement in the Griner deal, calling it a “one-or-none” decision.

“Paul and the Whelan family recently showed the entire country the meaning of generosity of spirit in celebrating the return of an American, while Russia continues its deplorable treatment of Paul as a bargaining chip,” said adviser to the president Joe Biden on national security, Jake Sullivan.

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

His brother, David Whelan, said when the exchange was announced, “I think we all understand that the math is not going to work out for Paul to come home anytime soon unless the US government is able to find concessions.”

Paul Whelan, 52, was sentenced in 2020.

In a statement on Wednesday, David Whelan said: “Today marks the 1,461st day that Paul has been held hostage by the Russian Federation. Russian authorities ensnared him four years ago today. How do you mark such a terrible milestone when there is no solution in sight?”

The anniversary, he said, “is both terrible and ordinary, just another day that Paul has to suffer in a Russian labor colony because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

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