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16 Aug, 2023 22:59

Blinken speaks to American imprisoned in Russia

Paul Whelan, who was convicted of spying, is a citizen of the US, Canada, Ireland, and the UK
Blinken speaks to American imprisoned in Russia

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Paul Whelan by phone on Wednesday, Whelan’s brother David has confirmed. Russia convicted the former US Marine of espionage in 2020 and sentenced him to 16 years behind bars. Washington considers him “wrongfully detained” and is trying to negotiate his release.

“I was aware that the call took place. I do not know anything, except that Paul apparently had a frank conversation with Secretary of State Blinken,” David Whelan told RIA Novosti, adding that Blinken is “a very kind person” to take time out of his busy schedule for a call to his imprisoned brother.

The State Department has yet to issue any official statements about the call. According to CNN, which cited a source familiar with the call, Blinken told Whelan to “keep the faith” and that the US is “doing everything we can to bring you home as soon as possible.”

Whelan was arrested in December 2018, after he accepted a flash drive from an undercover officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). His defense attorney insisted that Whelan had thought the drive contained photos from an event he attended with a Russian friend and argued that he was a victim of entrapment. Prosecutors said Whelan was after highly classified information about active-duty members of the FSB. He was found guilty in June 2020.

The US has designated Whelan as “wrongfully detained,” suggesting the charges against him were politically driven. Ambassador Lynne Tracy visited him in May at the prison colony in Mordovia, telling the media his release is “an absolute priority” for Washington.

Whelan was famously left out of the December 2022 prisoner exchange in which Washington swapped Russian businessman Viktor Bout for convicted drug smuggler and basketball star Brittney Griner.

The US has reportedly considered “narrow sanctions relief” and reached out to allies holding alleged Russian spies in order to set up an exchange for Whelan and a journalist also facing espionage charges. In April, Russia said it caught Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich “red-handed” attempting to obtain state secrets about military industry operations.

Commenting on speculation about a possible swap in several US outlets on Wednesday, Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said the matter was being handled by “authorized agencies.”

“We urge American politicians and the media to allow the competent authorities of the two countries to work in peace. Stop toying with people’s fates and leave the search for ‘solutions’ to professionals,” Antonov said.

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