"We will not stop, we will not relent, we will not cease until all Americans can celebrate Paul’s return," national security adviser Jake Sullivan wrote in a statement Wednesday.
Whelan, a US citizen and former Marine, was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and arrested on espionage charges, which he and the US vehemently reject.
Whelan was not included in a prisoner swap earlier this month that freed fellow American Brittney Griner from Russian detention. Despite US attempts at negotiating a joint release of the two Americans, Russia views Whelan’s case differently, American officials have said, and rejected those offers.
“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Whelan told CNN's Jennifer Hansler in a phone call from the penal colony where he is being held in a remote part of Russia on the day of Griner's release. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Members of Whelan's family said they welcomed Griner's release and said they were in touch with the White House about Paul's case.
"Paul and the Whelan family recently showed the entire country the meaning of generosity of spirit in celebrating a fellow American’s return while Russia continues its deplorable treatment of Paul as a bargaining chip," Sullivan wrote in his statement.
Moscow has demanded the release of a former colonel from Russia’s domestic spy organization in exchange for Whelan. The US has been unable to deliver upon that request because the ex-colonel is serving a life sentence in Germany.
11:30 a.m. ET, December 28, 2022
It's past 4 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know
From CNN staff
If you're just joining us, here's everything you need to know about Wednesday's developments in Russia's war in Ukraine.
Russian shelling continues: Moscow struck Oleshky and Kherson in the south and Kharkiv in the east.
The shelling in Oleshky killed at least one man, injured five others, and damaged a high-rise building and kiosks on the town’s market, according to Mayor Yevhen Ryshchuk.
Russia hit Kherson city 23 times in the past 24 hours and the larger Kherson region was impacted 50 times, said Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the Kherson regional military administration.The strike targets included a maternity ward where there were no casualties, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the office of the president of Ukraine. However, other shelling did injure three civilians to varying degrees, officials said.
A district of the northeastern city of Kharkiv was hit with rockets on Wednesday, injuring one civilian, according to Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional military administration.
Moscow bans oil supply to countries that agreed to price caps: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Tuesday banning oil supplies to countries that have introduced a price cap on Russian crude oil at $60 a barrel, according to the decree published on the Kremlin’s website — a move that may prove to be largely symbolic. The United States, Canada, the European Union, Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia all agreed to the price cap.
The power situation in Ukraine: The electricity deficit in the Ukrainian power grid grew on Wednesday due to shelling of gas infrastructure in eastern Ukraine, according to the latest update from state power utility Ukrenergo. While the deficit did not mean further power restrictions due to relatively warm weather, "the available capacity in the system is not enough to meet all the needs of consumers in the country," Ukrenergo said, adding that all regions have been informed about consumption limits. Ukraine has been facing a wide assault on critical infrastructure and power sources since early October, with the power grid suffering through nine missile and 12 Russian UAV attacks, according to Ukrenergo.
10:31 a.m. ET, December 28, 2022
Blinken recommits to bringing Paul Whelan home on fourth anniversary of his detention in Russia
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday recommitted to his pledge to work to bring American Paul Whelan home from Russia on the fourth anniversary of his wrongful detention.
"His detention remains unacceptable, and we continue to press for his immediate release at every opportunity," Blinken said in a statement. "I am committed to bringing home Paul and all U.S. hostages and wrongful detainees held around the world."
"As the President said directly to the Whelan family, our efforts to secure Paul’s release will not cease until he is back home with his family where he belongs," he said.
Whelan’s sister said Wednesday that it’s “a sign of weakness that the Russian authorities continue this practice of hostage-diplomacy by refusing to release my brother, who they know full well was arrested and sentenced on charges they themselves concocted.”
“The Kremlin appears to have lost the plot,” Elizabeth Whelan told CNN.
“Enough with this 'spy' horse crap, already!” she said. “Is this what passes for competent negotiating at the Kremlin? Because any random person at the local flea market could manage to make a deal with more skill.”
“And they certainly aren't 'winning friends and influencing people' in this household, that's for sure!” Elizabeth Whelan added.
Whelan's brother called the four-year anniversary of Paul’s detention “both awful and mundane,” questioning, “How do you mark such an awful milestone when there is no resolution in sight?”
In an emailed message to the media, David Whelan said the anniversary is “another day that Paul has to suffer in a Russian labor colony for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Another day that our parents have to suffer without being able to see or be with their son. It is both a culmination of lost life - four years of missed birthdays, Christmases, and other experiences — and also not an end point,” he wrote. “It's merely a marker of their suffering, not an indicator that the suffering will come to an end before another milestone, another year passes.”
“We continue to be grateful for the efforts of the US government to persuade the Kremlin to release Paul,” David Whelan added.
“Hopefully these efforts will be successful. Hopefully Paul will be able to stop by our parent's home and visit them, free at last, before another milestone passes. On milestones, sometimes all you have is hope,” he said.
Some background: Whelan was arrested in Moscow in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.
The Biden administration was unable to secure his release when they brought detained WNBA star Brittney Griner home last in a prisoner swap for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in mid-December.
Multiple US officials said that the Russians refused to negotiate a deal for Whelan, and CNN reported that Moscow repeatedly demanded a convicted murderer who is in German custody in exchange for the ex-Marine.
"This was not a situation where we had a choice of which American to bring home. It was a choice between bringing home one particular American — Brittney Griner — or bringing home none," a US senior administration official said.
Whelan told CNN in a call the day Griner was released, "It's a win for America when our citizens are repatriated and are back at home with their families, but I have to say I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release. Especially as the four year anniversary of my arrest is coming up."
5:53 p.m. ET, December 28, 2022
Fresh shelling dents Ukraine's energy capacity
From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv
The electricity deficit in the Ukrainian power grid grew on Wednesday due to shelling of gas infrastructure in eastern Ukraine, according to the latest update from state power utility Ukrenergo.
“As of December 28, the electricity deficit in the system has increased. This is due to the stop of some units of power plants due to the shelling of gas infrastructure in the eastern region,” Ukrenergo said in a statement.
Ukraine has been facing a wide assault on critical infrastructure and power sources since early October.
The deficit did not mean further power restrictions because of “relatively warm weather," Ukenergo said, but added: "the available capacity in the system is not enough to meet all the needs of consumers in the country. In this regard, all regions were informed about consumption limits, the excess of which leads to the need for emergency outages.”
In the last three months, the power grid has suffered nine missile and 12 Russian UAV attacks, according to Ukrenergo.
“As a result, generation facilities and transmission systems suffered large-scale and complex damage. Their restoration requires significant resources and time. Repair teams of Ukrenergo, electricity producers and distribution system operators are working continuously,” the statement said.
6:44 a.m. ET, December 28, 2022
Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine can freeze sperm free of charge, state media reports
From CNN's Anna Chernova and Irina Morgan
Russian soldiers taking part in the war on Ukraine will be eligible for free sperm freezing and storage in cryobanks, according to Russia’s state news agency Tass, citing a lawyers union.
“The families of those called up for military service as part of the partial mobilization will receive free access to fertility treatment and the storage of biomaterial in a cryobank,” said Igor Trunov, the president of the Russian Union of Lawyers, which represents several couples, according to Tass.
The Russian health ministry responded to a request for the creation of "a free cryobank of genetic material" and amendments to the mandatory health insurance system to allocate a free fertility treatment quota for Russian citizens taking part in what Moscow calls its "special military operation,” according to Trunov.
“The RF Ministry of Health has decided it is possible to use money from the federal budget to fund the fee-free conservation and storage of sex cells (sperm) for citizens mobilized into the Special Military Operation, in 2022-2024," he said, per Tass.
"Any subsequent free use of conserved genetic material in assisted reproductive technology is governed by the law, provided it is indicated as a part of [the individual's] mandatory health insurance package," he added.
6:54 a.m. ET, December 28, 2022
Russia dismisses Ukraine’s calls for UN Security Council removal
From CNN's Manveena Suri
Russia’s foreign ministry has slammed Ukraine’s calls to remove Russia from the UN Security Council (UNSC), according to Russian state news agency TASS.
On Monday, the Ukrainian foreign ministry in a statement said Russia should be both excluded from the UNSC, and from being a member of the UN as a whole. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for Russia’s expulsion from the United Nations in the past.
Maria Zakharova, Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman, dismissed Kyiv's statement Wednesday, saying, "Do nothing. This is precisely the case when dogs bark but the caravan moves on.”
Zakharova made the comments to Sputnik radio station on Wednesday in response to a question on Moscow’s reaction.
Here's some background: Ukraine's foreign ministry alleges “gross violations of the norms and principles of international law as well as for crimes committed on the territory of Ukraine, in particular, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as the crime of genocide.”
It suggests Russia could be re-admitted upon recommendation for UN membership once it “fulfils the conditions for membership in the Organization.”
11:29 a.m. ET, December 28, 2022
Rockets hit district of Ukraine’s northeastern city of Kharkiv
From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv
A district of the northeastern city of Kharkiv was hit with rockets on Wednesday, injuring one civilian, according to the regional military administration.
As a result of the occupiers' morning attacks on Kharkiv, a 48-year-old man got a shrapnel wound. He is in hospital in moderate state,” said Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, in a post on Telegram. “The occupiers hit Slobidskyi district of Kharkiv city with rockets. Employees of the State Emergency Service went to the scene,” he said.
Russia captured swathes of Kharkiv in the early days of its invasion, before Ukrainian forces retook most of the region in an offensive in the fall.
9:57 a.m. ET, December 28, 2022
French minister for armed forces arrives in Kyiv
From CNN's Stephanie Halasz
The French minister for the armed forces, Sebastien Lecornu, has arrived in Kyiv. After arriving via train from Warsaw, he went to the city's wall of remembrance where he laid a wreath, CNN affiliate BFM reported.
Lecornu will later meet his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksiy Reznikov, BFM said, to discuss the defense of Ukraine. It was not yet clear if he would meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, BFM said.
This is the first time the minister has been to Ukraine since the war began in February.
9:41 a.m. ET, December 28, 2022
Kherson city attacked 23 times in past 24 hours, Ukrainian official says
From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv
Russian attacks on Ukraine’s southern Kherson region continued over the past 24 hours, injuring three civilians, according to the head of the regional military administration.
“Russian occupiers shelled the territory of Kherson region 50 times. Peaceful settlements of the region suffered from attacks from artillery, MLRS, mortars and tanks,” Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the Kherson regional military administration, said in a Telegram post.
The city of Kherson was hit 23 times in the past 24 hours, Yanushevych said, adding that three people had sustained injuries of "varying severity."
In November, Russia’s military retreated from Kherson city, the only regional capital Moscow had captured since the invasion began, in a major setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since then, Russian forces have stationed themselves across the river from Kherson and regularly shell the city from there.