The U.S. ambassador to Russia will visit Paul Whelan, a former marine jailed by Moscow on espionage charges, in prison, the embassy said Wednesday.
Arrested in 2018 in Russia, Whelan was convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in a facility in Mordovia, a Russian region notorious since Soviet times for its penal colonies.
Both Whelan and the U.S. government have denied that he is a spy.
“Ambassador (Lynne) Tracy travels to Penal Colony 17 in Mordovia to visit illegally detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan,” the embassy said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.
“The plight of U.S. citizens detained in Russia remains a top priority for the U.S. government, and we reiterate our call for Paul’s immediate release,” it said.
The embassy did not say when Tracy would visit Whelan. She has also made three visits in recent months to Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was arrested in Russia in March and also faces spying charges that he denies.
The Biden administration has designated both men as “wrongfully detained,” meaning that it considers that the charges are baseless and that the pair were targeted primarily because they are American citizens.
Whelan was seen in a rare video broadcast late last month by a Kremlin-backed news channel. The White House said it was “reassuring” to see him looking apparently “unbowed.”
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Whelan. The Biden administration has repeatedly said it is doing everything it can to bring him home.
The Biden administration has carried out two prisoner swaps with Russia amid frosty bilateral ties due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Most recently, Washington secured the release of U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner in December 2022 in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout.
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