Biden meets with sister of Paul Whelan, ex-Marine wrongfully held in Russia

President Joe Biden and his national security adviser met Wednesday with the sister of Paul Whelan, a businessman and former Marine who the U.S. government says has been wrongfully held in a Russian prison, the White House said.

Whelan was arrested in Russia in December 2018 and was later convicted of espionage, allegations he and the U.S. deny.

On Wednesday, Biden and national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, “to discuss the Administration’s continued efforts to secure Paul’s release from Russia,” the White House said in a statement.

Biden also called Whelan’s parents, according to the White House.

“Since the beginning of the Administration, the President has been personally engaged in the effort to secure the release of Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained around the world, including Paul Whelan and fellow American Evan Gershkovich,” the White House said.

Whelan was working as the head of global security for an auto parts supplier in Michigan when he was arrested. Russia sentenced him in 2020 to 16 years in prison.

Gershkovich is a Wall Street Journal reporter who was arrested in March and accused by Russia’s Federal Security Service of espionage. The Journal said it “vehemently denies the allegations” and stands in solidarity with Gershkovich and his family.

The U.S. has said Gershkovich is being wrongfully detained.

A Russian court in November extended his detention until Jan. 30, Russian news agencies reported at the time.

The BBC published an article last month in which Whelan expressed frustration that he is still in a Russian prison.

“I know the US have all sorts of proposals, but it’s not what the Russians want. So they go back and forth, like throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks,” Whelan said, according to the BBC.

“The problem is, it’s my life that’s draining away while they do this. It’s been five years!” the British broadcaster reported him saying.

In December 2022, Russia freed WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced on a cannabis charge and who the U.S. said was wrongfully detained, in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was convicted by the U.S. and held in an American prison.