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Blinken says he spoke with Paul Whelan, US citizen held in Russia

by Martin Fornusek and The Kyiv Independent news desk February 14, 2024 4:24 PM 2 min read
Paul Whelan stands inside a defendant's cage as he waits to hear his verdict in Moscow on June 15, 2020. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Feb. 13 said he spoke by phone with Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine and businessman imprisoned in Russia.

Whelan was detained in Moscow in December 2018 and later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges, which both he and the U.S. government deny. The Marine veteran maintains he was visiting Russia to attend a friend's wedding.

Speaking at a forum about hostage diplomacy, Blinken said he spoke with Whelan on Feb. 12 but provided no further details about the call.

The secretary of state reaffirmed that Washington works every day to bring back home both Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter also detained in Russia on espionage charges.

"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," Blinken said.

Gershkovich has been reporting on Russia at the Journal's Moscow bureau since 2017. He was detained by Russia's Federal Security Service in late March 2023 while on a reporting trip in the city of Yekaterinburg.

The Wall Street Journal reporter was covering the attitude of Russians to the war against Ukraine and the recruitment of residents in Russia's state-backed private mercenary Wagner Group.

Moscow has previously rejected deals to swap Whelan and Gershkovich with Washington. WNBA star Brittney Griner and another Marine veteran, Trevor Reed, were exchanged for Russian prisoners in the U.S. in 2022.

Brittney Griner calls for more effort to free Americans detained overseas
WNBA star Brittney Griner on Dec. 8 commemorated one year since her release from Russia and called for more effort to free others currently detained overseas, highlighting the plight of wrongfully imprisoned Americans Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, The Hill reported.
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