May 21, 2024
The sister of the Michigan executive who has been wrongfully detained in Russia since late 2018 says she has “complete faith” in the Biden administration after meeting with President Joe Biden.

The sister of the Michigan executive who has been wrongfully detained in Russia since late 2018 says she has “complete faith” in the Biden administration after meeting with President Joe Biden.

Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with the president in the Oval Office on Friday, as did Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star whom the administration also considers wrongfully detained in Russia.

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“It was an exceptional honor to meet with President Biden on Friday to receive an update on the efforts the U.S. government is making towards obtaining my brother Paul Whelan’s freedom from wrongful detention in Russia,” she said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. “I am grateful for the continual outreach and info-sharing from the White House, National Security Council, Department of State, and the office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. Together with members of Congress, we will continue to fight for my brother Paul and all other Americans wrongfully detained.”

“Hostage-diplomacy is a national security as well as a humanitarian issue; when hostile foreign nations take Americans and hold them as pawns, we must work together with vigor to reunite those wrongfully detained with their families and deter these countries from continuing this malign practice,” she added. “I have complete faith that the Biden administration is fully engaged and using the tools at their disposal. Now we need Russia to also engage in good faith and free Paul Whelan.”

The meeting was not to inform either family that their loved one would be returning imminently, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday after announcing the meeting.

Griner was sentenced last month to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to drug-related charges that stem from her bringing cannabis vaping cartridges through a Moscow airport in February. She has been detained since, and the administration determined this spring that she met the government’s guidelines for a wrongful detention designation, while Whelan is serving a 16-year prison sentence on espionage-related charges that he and his family vehemently deny.

Biden administration officials revealed in July that they had made a “substantial proposal” to the Kremlin to secure Whelan and Griner’s release.

The United States has offered to release convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been dubbed the “Merchant of Death” because he has been accused of selling arms to sanctioned human rights abusers in various African nations, though Russia has also sought the return of Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel from the country’s domestic spy agency who was convicted of the murder of a former Chechen fighter in Germany in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison, according to CNN.

National Security Council coordinator John Kirby told reporters on Friday that Russia has “not responded to our offer,” which was described as a “serious” one, adding that “the discussions are ongoing.”

Earlier this week, CNN reported that former Gov. Bill Richardson, who has long become an advocate of Americans wrongfully detained abroad, traveled to Russia. A spokesperson for the Richardson Center declined to comment, though the person previously told the Washington Examiner that “both the Whelan and Griner families have asked us to help with the release of their loved ones.”

National Security Council coordinator John Kirby bristled at Richardson’s travel in an interview on CNN Wednesday.

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“Our message is that private citizens should not be in Moscow at all right now and that private citizens cannot negotiate on behalf of the United States government. Look, we share Mr. Richardson’s desire to see Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home with their families and her teammates where she belongs and where he belongs, and we’re working very, very hard through government channels. That’s the appropriate way to do that, and those efforts are ongoing.”

Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, said on social media it was “infuriating” that administration officials were critical of Richardson when “they could be spending [time] freeing our hostages.”

The U.S. and Russia agreed to swap Trevor Reed, another American who was considered wrongfully detained, for Russian drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko this spring.

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