U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed for the first time Thursday that the United States has put forward a proposal to secure the release of Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine in Russian custody for more than four years.
Blinken revealed the news during a press conference in New Delhi, India where he was attending the G-20 conference with other foreign ministers.
Blinken said he ran into his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov for the first time since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.
“The United States has put forward a serious proposal. Moscow should accept it,” Blinken said, without elaborating. “We’re determined to bring Paul and every other American citizen who’s unjustly detained around the world home. We won’t rest until we do.”
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State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier Thursday that Blinken’s proposal was not the first time Russia has heard it.
“What [Lavrov] did hear today was once again a strong statement from the Secretary of State that Russia should accept this proposal and, in turn, it should release Paul Whelan,” Price said, without going into details of the proposal so as not to jeopardize U.S. efforts.
Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, has been in Russian custody since Dec. 28, 2018, convicted on charges of espionage and spying for the U.S. government and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Whelan and the U.S. have denied charges as the 52-year-old remains imprisoned at a labor camp in Russia’s Mordovia Republic.
Whelan’s case has been compared to that of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was released from Russian custody last December after spending less than a year in prison. Griner was arrested in February after authorities discovered vape cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage.
The Biden administration had initially sought the release of both Griner and Whelan in exchange for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen serving a prison sentence in America. Known colloquially as the “Merchant of Death,” he was convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to kill Americans and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The Biden administration ultimately agreed to exchange Bout for Griner alone, leaving Whelan behind in Russia.
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