US urges Russia's Lavrov to see suffering of Whelan's sister

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Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, an American who has been detained in Russia for more than four years, stands in the gallery upon request from current speaker Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, during a meeting of the U.N. Security Council headed by Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, serving as president of the council, Monday, April 24, 2023, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

TANZANIA – The U.S. brought the sister of an American imprisoned in Russia to the U.N. Security Council on Monday for a session being chaired by the Russian foreign minister, urging him to “look into her eyes and see her suffering.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called on Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to release Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted of espionage. His family and the U.S. government have called the charges baseless.

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Thomas-Greenfield also urged him to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on March 29 and accused of trying to obtain classified information.

She accused Russia of using them as “political bargaining chips” and urged Moscow “to cease this barbaric practice once and for all.”

The U.S. ambassador told Lavrov to turn to the visitor’s gallery where Elizabeth Whelan was sitting and “look into her eyes and see her suffering.”

“I want you to see what it’s like to miss your brother for four years,” she said. “To know he is locked up in a Russian penal colony simply because you want to use him for your own means.”

U.N. cameras did not show whether Lavrov looked into the gallery.

Thomas-Greenfield told reporters that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said recently that the United States has made a proposal for Whelan’s release, “and we urge Russia to move on that proposal.”

“In the meantime, we will not stop, we will not rest, and we will not relent until Paul, Evan, and all hostages and wrongfully detained Americans are brought back, safe and sound,” she said.

Elizabeth Whelan told reporters before the meeting that her brother had “a job he loved, a home, a life of hope and opportunity” and “all that has been taken away from him by Russia, a country that revels in its culture of lies, its tradition of hostage diplomacy.”

“Now Paul is being held in labor camp IK-17 in the remote province of Mordovia, held as a pawn and victim of Russia's descent into lawlessness,” she said.

She called Russia “a terrorist state” and said its playbook “is so lazy” that Gershkovich has the same interrogator who harassed her brother until his “sham trial” in June 2020.

Gershkovich, 31, is the first U.S. correspondent since the Cold War to be detained in Russia on spying charges, which his family and the newspaper vehemently deny. Thomas-Greenfield told the council he was “just doing his job” as a journalist.

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