Biden calls family of American Paul Whelan imprisoned in Russia

White House official said the US president is committed to bringing him home, as well as other Americans detained abroad

Elizabeth Whelan holds a picture of her brother Paul who is imprisoned in Russia. Willy Lowry / The National
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US President Joe Biden on Friday called the sister of Paul Whelan, an American who is serving 16 years in Russian prison on espionage charges that he denies.

The conversation comes amid high tensions between Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine and also as the US aims to secure the release of two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA champion Brittney Griner from Russian detention.

The US leader told Elizabeth Whelan that "he is committed to bringing Paul home as soon as possible", a White House official said.

Mr Whelan was convicted on spying charges in Russia in 2020 and was sentenced to 16 years of hard labour.

"The US government will continue its efforts to secure the release of Paul as well as Brittney Griner and all other Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world," the official said.

Griner plead guilty on Thursday to bringing vape cartridges with cannabis oil into the country, although she denied intending to break the law.

Mr Biden has made Griner's release a top priority and the attention has rekindled media interest in Mr Whelan, a former head of global security at a US auto-parts supplier, who has been detained since 2018.

Russia and the US regularly clash over the detention of each other's citizens and sometimes exchange them in scenes reminiscent of the Cold War.

In April, former US Marine Trevor Reed, serving a nine-year sentence in Russia for violence, was exchanged for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, imprisoned in the US since 2010 for drug trafficking.

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Updated: July 09, 2022, 7:37 AM