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US Ambassador visits American Paul Whelan in Russian prison


US Ambassador to Russia Visits Michigan Corporate Security Officer Paul Whelan in Isolated Russian Jail

MOSCOW — The U.S. ambassador to Russia visited Michigan corporate security official Paul Whelan in a remote Russian prison on Thursday as U.S. officials try to persuade Russian officials to accept a proposal to to secure his release.

“Paul has been wrongfully detained in Russia for over four years, and his release remains a top priority,” Ambassador Lynne Tracy wrote on Twitter. “The U.S. government will continue to engage Russian authorities on his case so Paul can return home as soon as possible.”

Tracy did not comment on Whelan’s condition or say what she discussed with the retired US Marine, who was arrested in 2018 and is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage. Whelan and Washington deny spying in Russia.

The Biden administration had hoped to secure Whelan’s release during the prisoner exchange negotiations that eventually released American basketball star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison in December.

US officials said Washington had presented a “serious proposal” to Moscow to try to get Whelan out.

Analysts have pointed out that Moscow could use imprisoned Americans as a bargaining chip in rising US-Russian tensions over the Kremlin’s military operation in Ukraine.

Another American imprisoned in Russia is Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on March 29 and charged with trying to obtain classified information.

Gershkovich is the first American correspondent since the Cold War to be detained in Russia for espionage, which his family and the newspaper vehemently deny.

Tracy visited Whelan at IK-17, an isolated Russian penal colony in Mordovia, an area 350 kilometers (210 miles) southeast of Moscow which rights activists say is known for its harsh conditions and its violent criminals. It is in an area once synonymous with the Soviet Gulag.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.