By Jennifer Hansler, CNN
US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy visited Paul Whelan on Thursday — her first visit to the wrongfully detained American since taking up the post in Moscow.
“Today, Ambassador Tracy visited #PaulWhelan at IK17 prison in Mordovia,” the US Embassy in Moscow posted on Twitter.
“Paul has been wrongfully detained in Russia for more than 4 years, and his release remains an absolute priority,” the post said. “The U.S. government will continue to engage Russian authorities on his case so Paul can come home as soon as possible.”
Paul Whelan was detained in Russia in December 2018 and later sentenced to 16 years in prison on an espionage charge he vehemently denies.
He is serving out his prison sentence at a prison camp in Mordovia, an eight-hour drive from Moscow. In an interview with CNN in December, Whelan described the camp as “better than most in Russia because it’s mostly foreigners held here, but the conditions are extremely bad.”
“We only have cold water. Everywhere is dirty. There really isn’t any maintenance. Things are extremely old, you know, 30-40-50 years old, and you know, what isn’t broken doesn’t work. We don’t have cleaning supplies. The the medical care is substandard at best. And we’re really on our own to take care of ourselves,” he said.
Although Thursday was Tracy’s first in person visit, she has spoken by phone with Whelan in the past.
Whelan’s brother, David, said in late April that the two had spoken for an hour the week prior, and Paul “was able to express his concerns about his ongoing detention by Russia.”
“Paul also communicated very clearly his concern lest the US government bring home other American citizens from Russia and leave him behind again,” David Whelan said.
The US government was unable to secure Whelan’s release last year when they brought home two other wrongfully detained Americans: Trevor Reed in April and Brittney Griner in December.
Whelan is one of two Americans still in Russia who has been designated as wrongfully detained. The other, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, was imprisoned more than a month ago.
The US “will look at creative and sometimes quite challenging options” to try to bring Gershkovich home, but the process could take a long time, a senior administration official told CNN.
The official also said the administration is “incredibly frustrated” at Whelan’s continued detention in Russia.
“Despite this administration’s effort to put concrete things on the table to resolve a situation with Paul that should never have arisen in the first place, it is the other side, it is the Russian side that has refused to do so. And I think that leaves us quite appalled that Paul’s continuing circumstances. It leaves us, of course, now appalled at Evan’s circumstances and it leaves us quite concerned about how we resolve both these matters,” they said.
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