The White House, under President Joe Biden’s administration, has expressed a sense of reassurance upon viewing video footage of Paul Whelan, a US citizen who is currently incarcerated in Russia on charges of espionage.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre, addressing reporters on Tuesday, conveyed that witnessing the video was heartening, highlighting Whelan’s resilience in the face of adversity. The administration is urging for an end to the imprisonment of the 52-year-old Whelan in Russia, where he is currently serving a 16-year sentence.
Jean-Pierre stated, “It was reassuring to see that he remains — and this is to use his brother’s words — ‘unbowed’. Paul continues to show tremendous courage. Russia should release him immediately.” The United States has been striving to secure Whelan’s release from Russia for an extended period, alleging that Moscow is unjustly detaining an American citizen.
Paul Whelan, a former US marine and security executive, was detained in Russia in 2018 and subsequently convicted of espionage in 2020. He has been serving his prison term in a penal colony in Mordovia. Recently, the Russian media outlet RT published a video showcasing Whelan’s daily life in a labor camp, where he is seen wearing a uniform.
While the Russian government defends Whelan’s imprisonment, asserting that he acquired classified state information during a trip to Moscow, the US envoy at the time described the legal proceedings as a “secret trial in which no evidence was produced.” The White House maintains that Whelan’s detention lacks legitimacy. Whelan himself and his family have consistently denied the charges, advocating for his release.
Last year, the Biden administration endeavored to include Whelan in a potential prisoner exchange with Russia. Although US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reported making a “substantive proposal” to Russia, the final agreement did not encompass Whelan. Instead, in December, the US secured the release of arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who had been arrested in Russia for possessing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.
Reflecting on the situation, President Biden conveyed, “While we have not yet succeeded in securing [Whelan’s] release, we are not giving up. We will never give up. We remain in close touch with [his] family, the Whelan family, and my thoughts and prayers are with them today.”
Paul Whelan expressed his disappointment that he was not included in the December agreement between Moscow and Washington. In a telephone interview with CNN, he remarked, “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.” Whelan’s case is not isolated; there are other US citizens, including Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, who are held in Russia under circumstances that the US considers illegitimate. The Russian government recently extended the pre-trial detention of Gershkovich, leading to condemnation from US officials and press freedom advocates.