Paul Whelan, a US citizen who has been detained in Russia for more than two years, is sick and has struggled to reach the US Embassy, his brother said Wednesday.
“Paul has been able to speak to our parents by phone,” David Whelan said in a statement. “Paul is sick - he’s indicated he has a 102F temperature and that prisoners are sharing around any over-the-counter medications they can spare. Paul also said he was receiving antibiotics, although if he has the cold virus he thinks he has, it’s not clear why the prison medical staff would prescribe them.”
“He continues to struggle to call the US Embassy, as the prison warden will not approve the phone number he has been attempting to call. The goal appears to make consular support for Paul as difficult as possible,” he said.
The Federal Penitentiary Service said Whelan sought help at the medical unit of the Mordovian colony where he is imprisoned and had “signs of a seasonal illness,” but his condition is “satisfactory.”
The US Embassy in Moscow said it “is aware of reports that U.S. citizen Paul Whelan is unwell.”
“We are in touch with the Whelan family, and we are working through Russian official channels to regain consular access to Paul,” the embassy said.
A State Department official echoed those comments, adding, “We remain concerned for Paul’s well-being and his safety and will continue to speak on Paul’s behalf until the Russian government finally does the right thing and sends Paul home to his family in the United States.”
Paul Whelan was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in prison last June. Whelan – who is also an Irish, British and Canadian citizen – was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 by Russian authorities who alleged he was involved in an intelligence operation. He has denied the charges and US officials have condemned his sentencing.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price expressed concern for Whelan and another American detained in Russia, Trevor Reed.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called on Russia to “swiftly release both Mr. Reed and Paul Whelan.”
“Doing so on the heels of extending New START would demonstrate Russia is ready to move past intractable issues within the … bilateral relationship,” she said.
Asked if sanctions or consequences are on the table, Psaki punted to the administration’s broad ongoing review of Russia.
“Once that review is concluded, we’ll have more to say on our policy moving forward,” she said.
The Whelans and Reeds both participated in the call Secretary of State Tony Blinken held with the families of US hostages and detainees on Tuesday and had high praise for the gesture by the top US diplomat.
Paula Reed, Trevor’s mother, said after the call “it just made (her) heart sing.
“I felt like a whole weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt heard. I felt cared for. And it was just, it was awesome to feel that way,” said Paula Reed. “I was crying when we got off; it was just so emotional.”
“It is one thing to talk about caring and it is another to act. This conference call with families was an action that showed that the State Department is listening. It was good to hear Secretary Blinken discuss the need to use relationships – with other US agencies and foreign nations – and tools – legislatively –enacted options like the Levinson Act for hostage support and for sanctions – to find ways to gain our family members’ freedom. I will be looking forward to seeing those words become actions to try to bring American hostages home,” David Whelan said Wednesday.
Elizabeth Whelan told CNN Tuesday evening that “to be invited to a virtual call so many days into Secretary Blinken’s new position, was really quite incredible just in and of itself. The fact of the call itself was a surprise, a delightful surprise.”
She said Blinken promised to be “very clear and transparent with the families as to what was going on, what wasn’t going to happen, so that we understood exactly where we stood regarding the different cases.”
CNN’s Mary Ilyushina and Matthew Chance in Moscow contributed to this report.