National Security spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday the White House is “deeply concerned” about jailed American Paul Whelan in Russia, after his family last heard from him November 23 and has only received unclear messages from prison staff that he was moved to the prison hospital.
Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence in a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia. He was arrested in 2018 and accused of spying. His brother David Whelan said he was in Moscow for a friend’s wedding and was given a USB drive.
The penal colony’s staff said he was moved to the prison hospital on November 17, a day after a visit by U.S. and Irish diplomats, his brother said. Paul had spoken to his parents every day from the 17th to the 23rd and did not mention the move, according to an email by David on Wednesday.
“Paul has normally called on holidays and has missed both Thanksgiving and our dad’s birthday now. It’s highly unusual,” David said.
U.S. diplomats in Moscow were working to get details on what was going on, Kirby said, adding, “But yes, we are deeply concerned about the lack of information and the lack of contact from Paul.”
The U.S. government has been negotiating Paul’s release along with jailed WNBA star Brittney Griner, who is serving a nine-year sentence in a Russian penal colony following an August arrest for possessing vape canisters that contained 0.702 grams of cannabis oil.
The White House has offered to swap the pair for convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, but earlier this week a senior U.S. diplomat in Moscow said, “the Russian Federation has not provided a serious response” to that proposal or to “proposed alternatives.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview on Wednesday that U.S. consular officials last saw Whelan on November 16.
“We’ve not had contact since then and we’ve asked for it. We’re pursuing it every day,” he told MSNBC.