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Blinken speaks with Paul Whelan, American detained in Russia, for third time

Washington — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he spoke with Paul Whelan, an American businessman the U.S. considers to be wrongfully detained in Russia, on Monday. 

“Yesterday, as it happens, I spoke on the phone with Paul Whelan,” Blinken said Tuesday at an event on hostage diplomacy at the Wilson Center in Washington. “Our intensive efforts to bring Paul home continue every single day, and they will until he and Evan Gershkovich and every other American wrongfully detained is back with their loved ones.” 

It’s the third time Blinken has spoken with Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges, which the U.S. has said are sham charges. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020. 

Blinken assured Whelan that the U.S. is working to bring him home, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in Tuesday’s briefing. 

“He assured Paul Whelan, as he has in his previous calls, that we’re with you. We have not forgotten you. We continue to work to try to secure your release. And we will continue to work to try to secure your release. It is the top priority, not just of the secretary but of President Biden as well,” Miller said. 

Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on Aug. 23, 2019.
Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants’ cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on Aug. 23, 2019.

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images


Whelan’s brother David told CBS News in an email that he does not think the phone call signals any positive movement in securing his release.

“I don’t think it signals anything other than that the U.S. government continues to try to reassure Paul that they are working on his freedom,” David Whelan said. 

He added that the phone calls “mean a lot to Paul and our parents’ morale,” and that the call was originally meant to happen in January but the logistics didn’t work out on Whelan’s end.

The president met with Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth, in January at the White House, and his family repeatedly has pressed for the administration to do more to bring him home. 

In early December, the State Department said it made a “new and significant” proposal to Russia for the release of 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,” Miller said in December. 

Miller said at Monday’s briefing that the U.S. has put offers on the table “more than once” to secure their release. 

“We will continue to engage to try to pursue, or try to obtain, their release,” he said. 

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