Biden meets with Paul Whelan’s sister after Russia rejects offer to free him

Caitlin Yilek

Washington — President Biden on Wednesday met with the sister of Paul Whelan, who the U.S. considers to be wrongfully detained in Russia following his arrest on espionage charges in 2018.

Elizabeth Whelan had been seeking a meeting with the president for months as her family presses the Biden administration to do more to secure her brother’s release. 

“This afternoon, the President held a private meeting with Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of wrongfully detained American Paul Whelan, to discuss the Administration’s continued efforts to secure Paul’s release from Russia,” the White House said, adding that national security adviser Jake Sullivan joined the meeting. 

Mr. Biden called Paul Whelan’s parents immediately after meeting with his sister, according to the White House. 

Paul Whelan, who was arrested on espionage charges in 2018 while attending a friend’s wedding in Russia, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison. He and his family have vehemently denied the allegations. 

In early December, the State Department said it made a “new and significant” proposal to Russia for the release of Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested last March on unsubstantiated espionage charges while he was on a reporting trip. 

The U.S. has also declared Gershkovich, who is awaiting trial, wrongfully detained. 

“That proposal was rejected by Russia,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Dec. 5. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged last month that there were discussions between the Kremlin and Washington.

“I hope we will find a solution,” Putin said in his end-of-year news conference. “But, I repeat, the American side must hear us and make a decision that will satisfy the Russian side as well.” 

In response, Miller said the U.S. had “put multiple offers on the table.”

“So far we have seen them refuse to take us up on our proposals and we hope that they will change the way they’ve handled this going forward,” Miller said on Dec. 14. 

In recent weeks, Paul Whelan has been calling journalists from the labor camp in Mordovia where he is serving his sentence. He told CBS News’ partner network BBC News that it’s “unfathomable” that the Biden administration has “left me behind” while other Americans have been freed in prisoner swaps. 

The U.S. has made prisoner swaps to secure the release of Marine veteran Trevor Reed and WNBA star Brittney Griner, who were both wrongfully detained, according to the U.S., in Russia after Paul Whelan’s arrest.

“A serious betrayal. It’s extremely frustrating,” he told the BBC. “I know that the U.S. has come up with all sorts of proposals — serious proposals — but it’s not what the Russians are after. So they keep going back and forth. The only problem is, it’s my life that’s draining away while they do this.”

In an email to the media that marked Paul Whelan’s fifth year in custody, his brother, David Whelan, was pessimistic that he would be freed soon. He noted Paul Whelan was risking his safety to make the calls. 

“I think Paul is pushed to desperate measures because he is at his wit’s end as to why he is still there,” he wrote. “He has seen a job he loved eliminated, lost a home he’d lived in for more than a decade, grieved a beloved family dog dying, and can see that it’s a race against time to see if he will see our parents again.” 

After the State Department revealed that an offer to free Paul Whelan and Gershkovich had been rejected by Russia, David Whelan called on the White House to meet with Elizabeth Whelan. 

“Now would be a great time for the White House to show they were willing to do more than just air another platitude,” he said in a Dec. 7 statement. “A meeting would go a long way to reassure us that the President will keep his promise to Paul and will not miss an opportunity to bring Paul home to our family.”

The White House said Wednesday Mr. Biden “has been personally engaged in the effort to secure the release of Americans held hostages and wrongfully detained around the world including Paul Whelan and fellow American Evan Gershkovich.” 

Caitlin Yilek

2024-01-11 02:00:22 , Home –

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