The United States has raised concerns about Paul Whelan, a US citizen being held in Russia, after his family publicly said they had not heard from him for days and had not heard from him. Where is he being held?
White House national security spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday said the administration of US President Joe Biden was “deeply concerned” about the US Marine veteran, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison. in 2020 for espionage.
“We are trying to gather more information about Mr Whelan’s condition and where he lives. And as we spoke this morning, unfortunately we didn’t have specific updates on where he is or what his condition is,” Kirby told reporters at a news conference. by phone.
“It makes us extremely worried and we certainly share the worries and concerns of the country and the family,” he added. “We are deeply concerned about the lack of information and communication from Paul, and we are working to resolve this through diplomatic channels.”
Comments come in the middle Negotiation is going on between US and Russian officials to secure the release of detained citizens from their respective countries.
Washington is seeking to release Whelan and Brittney Grinerstar of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) serving nine-year sentence for drug possession, while Moscow has said it wants Viktor Bout, convicted of Russian arms trafficking, to be released from US prison.
David Whelan, Paul’s brother, this week said the family did not know where Paul was.
Staff at the detention center where Paul is being held in Russia’s Mordovia region said he was transferred to the prison hospital on November 17, a day after a visit by US and Irish diplomats.
Paul spoke to his parents daily from November 17 to 23 and made no mention of moving, David Whelan said in an email to Reuters news agency on Wednesday.
David Whelan said the family has not heard from him since then, including on Thanksgiving Day on November 24 in the US, which is very unusual. When he was transferred to the prison hospital in the past, Paul had always mentioned the transfer in his phone calls.
“Paul doesn’t complain of any medical condition that requires hospitalization, so is there an emergency?” David Whelan said in an emailed statement on Tuesday, adding that Paul appeared healthy and good to the diplomats.
“Is he unable to make calls? Or is he really still here [the penal colony] but he’s in solitary confinement and the prison is hiding the truth?”
Meanwhile, during a press conference on Monday, Kirby said the Biden administration continues to confer with Russian officials about the release of Griner and Whelan.
“I can assure you that those conversations are ongoing and we want both of you to get home as quickly as possible, and this administration will remain committed to that mission.” he told reporters.
When asked about Griner’s physical health, who had been transferred to a penal colony of Russia This month, Kirby said he couldn’t comment for privacy reasons, but added that the US “takes that very seriously… knowing where she is and what penal colonies are designed for. to do”.
The penal colonies of Russia are known for hard condition. Inmates are placed in barracks rather than individual cells and forced to perform daily tasks.
Griner was arrested in February, days before Russia launched an all-out assault. Invasion of Ukraineand her case was moved through the Russian court system amid war-torn relations between Moscow and Washington.
Russian authorities said they found a vape box containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has said packing the cartridges was an “honest mistake”.
Biden meet the Griner family and Whelan at the White House in September, in an attempt to show that his administration is working to ensure their return to the United States.
The US State Department has called the ongoing detention of the couple unjustified, and in July Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had made an “important proposal” to Moscow to release them.
Asked by reporters earlier this week if a prisoner exchange could be made before the end of the year, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, replied: “There’s always a chance.”
“Unfortunately, there were a few cases where it seemed that a decision in its favor was about to be made, but that never happened,” Ryabkov said on Tuesday, without elaborating. .
Ryabkov noted that the prisoner exchange “would certainly send a positive signal that not everything is completely hopeless in Russian-American relations”, adding that “such a signal would be appropriate”. case, if we can work it out.”