US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently had a phone conversation with Paul Whelan, the former US Marine who was convicted of espionage by Russia in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Whelan holds citizenship in multiple countries, including the US, Canada, Ireland, and the UK. The call, which took place on Wednesday, was confirmed by Whelan’s brother David.
While the details of the conversation have not been disclosed, David Whelan expressed his gratitude to Secretary Blinken for taking the time to speak with his imprisoned brother. He described Blinken as “a very kind person” for prioritizing the call despite his busy schedule. The US State Department has yet to release an official statement regarding the conversation.
According to CNN, a source familiar with the call revealed that Secretary Blinken reassured Whelan, telling him to “keep the faith” and that the US is doing everything possible to secure his release and bring him home as soon as possible. This reaffirms Washington’s stance that Whelan is wrongfully detained and underscores its commitment to negotiating his release with the Russian government.
Whelan’s arrest occurred in December 2018 when he accepted a flash drive from an undercover officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Whelan’s defense attorney argued that he believed the drive contained personal photos from an event he attended with a Russian friend and claimed that he was the victim of entrapment. In contrast, prosecutors maintained that Whelan was seeking highly classified information about active-duty members of the FSB. Ultimately, he was found guilty in June 2020.
The US government has consistently labeled Whelan as wrongfully detained, suggesting that the charges against him were politically motivated. In May, Ambassador Lynne Tracy visited Whelan in the prison colony in Mordovia, emphasizing that his release was an absolute priority for Washington.
It is worth noting that Whelan was notably excluded from a prisoner exchange in December 2022, in which Russian businessman Viktor Bout was swapped for convicted drug smuggler and basketball star Brittney Griner. Following this exchange, the US has reportedly considered narrow sanctions relief and reached out to its allies who are holding alleged Russian spies in order to potentially set up a swap for Whelan and a journalist named Evan Gershkovich, who is also facing espionage charges.
The possibility of a swap has sparked speculation in various US outlets, prompting Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, to state that the matter is being handled by authorized agencies. Antonov urged American politicians and the media to allow the competent authorities of both countries to work in peace, cautioning them against manipulating the fates of individuals and urging them to let professionals search for solutions.
The situation surrounding Paul Whelan’s imprisonment remains a topic of interest and concern, and Secretary Blinken’s call with him highlights the ongoing efforts by the US government to secure his release. The outcome of these negotiations and any developments related to a potential prisoner swap will continue to be closely monitored by both domestic and international observers.