US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday reiterated his pledge to work to bring American Paul Whelan home from Russia on the fourth anniversary of his wrongful imprisonment.
“His detention remains unacceptable and we continue to urge his immediate release at every opportunity,” Blinken said in a statement. “I am committed to bringing home Paul and all US hostages and wrongfully imprisoned held around the world.”
“As the Whelan family president said directly, our efforts to secure Paul’s release will not stop until he is back home with his family, where he belongs,” he said.
Whelan’s sister said on Wednesday it was “a sign of weakness that the Russian authorities are continuing this practice of hostage diplomacy by refusing to release my brother, who they know has been arrested and convicted on charges that… they invented themselves”.
“The Kremlin seems to have lost the conspiracy,” Elizabeth Whelan told CNN.
“Enough with this ‘spy’ horse shit, already!” She said. “Does that pass as competent negotiation in the Kremlin? Because anyone with more skill could get a deal at the local flea market.”
“And they’re certainly not ‘making friends and influencing people’ in this household, that’s for sure!” Elizabeth Whelan added.
Calling the four-year anniversary of Paul’s incarceration “both horrifying and mundane,” Whelan’s brother asked, “How do you mark such a horrifying milestone when there’s no resolution in sight?”
In an email to the media, David Whelan said the anniversary was “another day Paul has to suffer in a Russian labor colony because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
“Another day our parents suffer without being able to see or be with their son. It’s both a culmination of lost life — four years of missed birthdays, Christmas and other experiences — and not an ending point,” he wrote. “It is merely a sign of their suffering, not an indicator that the suffering will end before another milestone or year passes.”
“We remain grateful for the US government’s efforts to persuade the Kremlin to release Paul,” added David Whelan.
“Hopefully these efforts will be successful. Hopefully Paul can stop by our parents’ house and visit them, free at last, before another milestone passes. With milestones sometimes only hope remains,” he said.
Some background: Whelan was arrested in Moscow in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.
The Biden administration failed to secure his release when, in mid-December, it brought home jailed WNBA star Brittney Griner in a prisoner swap for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Several US officials said the Russians had refused to negotiate a deal for Whelan, and CNN reported Moscow had repeatedly demanded a convicted killer in German custody in exchange for the ex-Marine.
“This was not a situation where we had a choice about which American to bring home. It was a choice whether we bring home a certain American woman – Brittney Griner – or not bring home,” said a senior US administration official.
Whelan told CNN in a call on the day of Griner’s release, “It’s a win for America to have our citizens repatriated and back home with their families, but I have to say I’m very disappointed that more hasn’t been done.” was to secure my release. Especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is approaching.”