The U.S. State Department said President Biden’s top diplomat pressed his Russian counterpart Thursday about releasing two imprisoned Americans, Marine Corps veterans Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken discussed both detained U.S. citizens during a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement after.
“The Secretary reiterated President Biden’s resolve to protect American citizens and act firmly in defense of U.S. interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies. This includes the release of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed so that they are able to return home to their families in the United States,” Mr. Price said in the statement.
Both detainees were convicted in Moscow last year in separate, unrelated cases. Mr. Whelan was found guilty of espionage and Mr. Reed of assaulting two police officers. Each maintains his innocence.
Mr. Blinken, whose stint as secretary of state officially started last week, conducted a call with the relatives of Mr. Whelan and other Americans jailed abroad a day before talking with Mr. Lavrov.
“It was the first time our family has been able to speak with a Secretary of State, and the first time one has shown this level of concern about American hostages since Paul was wrongfully detained in 2018,” the Whelan family said in a statement Wednesday.
Mr. Whelan, 50, recently became ill while imprisoned in Russia, his family said. He was treating a 102-degree fever with over-the-counter medication being shared among inmates, they said.
“These are Paul‘s challenges and every hostage has their own to struggle against,” the Whelans said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova replied Thursday to say claims of Mr. Whelan receiving poor medical treatment in prison are “without any proof whatsoever,” state media reported.
Meanwhile, Mr. Reed was in a Moscow court Wednesday to appeal his conviction. John Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, attended the hearing and spoke to reporters afterward.
Calling it a “mockery of justice,” Mr. Sullivan, an appointee of former President Trump, said his “hope and expectation” is that the appeals proceedings will remedy Mr. Reed‘s conviction.