The US remembers another year of arrest of a businessman in Russia

WASHINGTON (HPD) — President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday marked the fourth anniversary of the Russian arrest of American businessman Paul Whelan, whose imprisonment is one of the main sources of friction in deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow.

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

US officials had hoped to include Whelan in a recent prisoner swap that traded detained WNBA star Brittney Griner for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The US government believes that Whelan, like Griner, was wrongfully detained.

Blinken said that Whelan and his family are “suffering an indescribable ordeal” and denounced once again the conviction of the American, based on secret evidence, and the sentence of 16 years in prison.

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

Whelan, a Michigan executive specializing in corporate security, is jailed in Russia on espionage charges, which his family and the US government have said are baseless. US officials said Russia refused to consider including Whelan in the trade with Griner, calling it a “one or none” decision.

“Paul and the Whelan family recently showed the entire country the meaning of generosity of spirit as they celebrated the return of a fellow American as Russia continues its deplorable treatment of Paul as a bargaining chip,” said the national security adviser to the Biden President Jake Sullivan.

The Whelan family supported the trade that released Griner, but expressed fear that it will be several years before Whelan is released.

His brother, David Whelan, said when the trade was announced: “I think we all realize that the math is not going to work for Paul to come home soon, unless the United States government can 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 caught him four years ago today. How do you mark such a terrible milestone when there is no resolution in sight?

The anniversary, he added, “is terrible and mean, just another day that Paul has to suffer in a Russian labor colony for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

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