By Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is “deeply concerned” about detained American Paul Whelan in Russia, and has not been able to get information from Moscow on his whereabouts or condition, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday.
Kirby addressed the issue after Whelan’s family said this week they had not heard from Paul Whelan, a former Marine, since Nov. 23, but had gotten reports he had been moved to the prison hospital.
Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in Russia in December 2018 and convicted two years later on espionage charges.
“We have been trying to get more information about Mr. Whelan’s condition and his whereabouts. … Regrettably, we do not have an update specifically about where he is or what condition he’s in,” Kirby told reporters.
“That deeply concerns us and we certainly share the anxiety and the concern of the Whelan family.”
U.S. diplomats in Moscow were working to get details on what was going on with Whelan, Kirby said.
“But yes, we are deeply concerned about the lack of information and the lack of contact from Paul,” he added.
Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence in the Russian region of Mordovia on the espionage charges, which he denies.
The Whelan family said in statements this week they had not heard from Paul since Nov. 23 and had received unclear messages from prison staff that he was moved to the prison hospital.
The penal colony’s staff said Paul was moved to the prison hospital on Nov. 17, a day after a visit by U.S. and Irish diplomats, his brother David Whelan said. Paul had spoken to his parents every day from the 17th to the 23rd and did not mention the move, David Whelan said in an email on Wednesday.
The family has not heard from him since, including on Nov. 24, the Thanksgiving Day holiday.
“Paul has normally called on holidays and has missed both Thanksgiving and our dad’s birthday now. It’s highly unusual,” David Whelan said.
When transferred to the prison’s hospital in the past, his brother had always mentioned the move in his phone calls, David Whelan said.
The United States is talking to Russia about a deal to free Whelan and the jailed American basketball star Brittney Griner but U.S. officials have said Russia has not provided a “serious response” to any of Washington’s proposals.
Griner was taken this month to a Russian penal colony to serve a nine-year drug sentence after being arrested in February with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She said at her trial she used them to relieve pain from sports injuries and had not meant to break the law.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed on Wednesday that U.S. consular officials last saw Whelan on Nov. 16.
“We’ve not had contact since then and we’ve asked for it. We’re pursuing it every day,” he said in an interview with MSNBC.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Michael Martina and Chris Gallagher; Editing by Bernadette Baum)