US Secretary of State Antony Blinken engaged in a telephone conversation on Wednesday with American citizen Paul Whelan, who is currently being detained in a remote prison camp in Russia, according to a source familiar with the matter as reported by CNN.
During the call, the top US diplomat encouraged Whelan to maintain hope and assured him that every possible effort is being made to facilitate his return at the earliest opportunity, the source disclosed.
This marks the second occasion that Blinken has spoken with Whelan, who has been held in Russian custody for over four years. The initial conversation between Whelan and Blinken took place on December 30, as confirmed by another source familiar with the matter.
Paul Whelan has the capability to make phone calls from his confinement in Mordovia, Russia, although additional details concerning the circumstances surrounding the call to Blinken were not provided by the source.
Paul Whelan informed his parents that he engaged in an extensive and candid discussion with Secretary Blinken, as conveyed by his brother David Whelan to CNN on Wednesday. However, specific details about the conversation were not elaborated upon by David Whelan.
“I believe that Secretary Blinken has clearly conveyed a message, and that message is directed towards Paul and our family, indicating that the US government is continuously advocating for Paul’s release,” stated David Whelan during an appearance on CNN’s “The Lead.”
He further added, “I believe it’s also a message for the Kremlin, signifying that the US government remains steadfast and, in fact, its primary foreign policy representative is willing to converse with a prisoner, which, I find, to be quite remarkable.”
This dialogue transpires as the Biden administration persistently emphasizes to Russia the substantive proposal presented over eight months ago for Whelan’s release. Regrettably, Russia has not responded substantively to the proposal, as disclosed by two officials from the administration in conversations with CNN.
Although the proposal concerning Whelan is still considered a viable option by the United States, a senior administration official explained, the absence of a comprehensive response from Russia—coupled with the wrongful detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich earlier this year—has necessitated the continuation of efforts to identify alternative offers.
The senior administration official stated that it remains imperative to find a resolution to the situation and remarked, “If we cannot achieve this based on the current available options, we will need to determine the necessary steps to bring our citizens home.”
The Biden administration persists in exploring potential incentives that could motivate Russia to release both wrongfully detained Americans, as previously reported by CNN. At present, there are no high-ranking Russian spies held in US custody, which has prompted the US to seek assistance from allies.
Last week, Elizabeth Whelan expressed her desire for expedited efforts to secure her brother’s release. She underscored, “The slow pace of progress—I’m not certain that we’ve reached a point where it can be affirmed that every possible measure has been taken to secure Paul’s return.”
“In my capacity as Paul’s sister, I feel a heightened sense of urgency and frustration. I don’t intend to diminish the care that people have shown, because they definitely care. Nevertheless, what’s required is an escalated understanding of the potential urgency as time may be running out,” she conveyed. “We cannot ascertain that the Russian government will continue to engage in discussions concerning a potential exchange or any other solution for Paul’s situation moving forward.”
David Whelan also acknowledged that the family is gradually coming to terms with the possibility that his brother may have to serve the entirety of his 16-year prison sentence.
“I believe we have now reached a juncture where we are accepting that Paul might not be able to return home until 2034,” he articulated. “I don’t think there is any justification to anticipate that the current actions undertaken by the US government will result in Paul’s immediate release or a release in the near future.”
He further remarked, “Our focus is shifting towards the possibility that he may serve his full 16-year term. The more we are prepared to confront this reality, the better equipped we will be to endure it and support him through it.”
In a exclusive phone call with CNN in May, Paul Whelan expressed his conviction that his case remains a priority for the US government, although he wished for a swifter resolution. He also expressed concerns that he could be overlooked if the US secures the release of Evan Gershkovich.
“At this point, that’s a significant worry for me and my family,” he expressed at the time.
Despite efforts, the US was unable to secure Paul Whelan’s release through prisoner swaps that led to the return of other wrongfully detained Americans last year, including Trevor Reed in April and Brittney Griner in December.
However, Paul Whelan conveyed in May that he possesses greater confidence in US endeavors to facilitate his return, in comparison to when he spoke with CNN in December following Brittney Griner’s release.
“I have been assured that I won’t be left behind, and I’ve been informed that while Evan’s situation is a priority, mine is also a priority, and officials recognize the severe adverse impact that this ordeal has on me and my family. I’ve been informed that the government is exerting exhaustive efforts to secure my release and repatriation, so they can then channel their focus towards Evan and his case,” Paul Whelan articulated.
He concluded, “There will eventually be a resolution to this situation, and I hope that it materializes sooner rather than later. However, grappling with this situation on a daily basis is disheartening. The prospect of this continues to be a source of daily depression, despite the hope that there will be an eventual end to it.”