The sister of a U.S. Marine who has been detained in Russia since 2018 accused President Biden of ignoring her family after he called the wife of Brittney Griner, who is also jailed in Russia.
Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, called on Mr. Biden to reach out to her family to talk about bringing her brother home to the U.S.
Ms. Whelan on Thursday tweeted a press release from the White House announcing the president’s call to the wife of Ms. Griner, a basketball star who has been held in a Russian jail for four months on drug charges.
“Still looking for that press release saying @POTUS has spoken to anyone in OUR family about #PaulWhelan, wrongfully detained in #Russia for 3.5 years,” Ms. Whelan wrote.
“I am crushed. If he wants to talk about securing Paul’s release, he needs to be talking to the Whelans! What are we to think?!” she said.
Mr. Biden is said to be receiving regular updates on the Whelan case, and staff from the special envoy for hostage affairs held a call with Ms. Whelan earlier this week.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken also have reached out to Ms. Whelan, although Mr. Biden has not.
“President Biden has been clear about the need to secure the release of Paul Whalen as soon as possible, as well as the release of Brittney Griner and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement to The Washington Times.
“We will continue to be in regular contact with Paul’s family, and with other families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, to provide support and assistance and keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones,” Ms. Watson said.
Ms. Whelan’s brother is serving 16 years of hard labor at a Russian prison camp after his arrest and trial on charges of spying. The Whelan family has always maintained his innocence and he has criticized his trial as a “sham.”
Ms. Whelan wasn’t the only member of her family speaking out after the president called Cherelle Griner on Wednesday. Paul Whelan’s twin brother David said Mr. Biden is ignoring his family.
“I don’t begrudge Ms. Griner and her supporters their success in getting the president’s attention while he ignores so many other families,” he told The Detroit News. “It suggests the only way to get the White House’s attention, under President Trump or President Biden, is to have celebrity and wealth and resources that most wrongfully detainees do not have.”
David Whelan said he feared his brother would be left behind again.
“Unfortunately, if it unfolds that Ms. Griner is released and Paul isn’t, again, we’ll be faced with the same question we were with the release of Trevor Reed: Is the White House only working on the cases when the president takes time to call? And how do families explain that to their loved ones?”
Trevor Reed, a former Marine who had been detained in Russia since 2019, was released in April through a prisoner swap with Moscow. He was sentenced to nine years in prison for a bar fight, though he has always denied the charges against him.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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