Day 1591 - Paul Whelan - IK-17 Mordovia Russia - May 7, 2023 - Ambassador's Visit

Paul has been held hostage by the Kremlin for 1,591 days as of today.  We'll hit 1,600 days soon and there's still no reason to think it won't eventually be 1,700 or 1,800.  Paul seems to be doing better mentally and has come to grips with the disappointment caused by the increased complexity surrounding his case.

The boredom has increased as the prison is no longer receiving enough materials to keep the prisoners working.  So they are forced to go to the factory in the camp and sit—they're not allowed to read or otherwise occupy themselves—without work.  The prison guards gather bribes most evenings but recently went into the barracks and emptied out prisoners' personal belongings from their storage.  The guards then took anything they thought was valuable.  Paul has so far been excluded from this looting but it's another aspect of uncertainty in his situation.

Ambassador Lynne Tracey visited IK-17 on May 4th.  It was a good sign on a number of fronts.  We had worried that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was going to start interfering with consular access again.  But Ambassador Tracey was able to meet with Paul for nearly 90 minutes.  Paul's comments to our parents made it clear that he valued the Ambassador's visit and words of support.  He understands how exceptional it is for the Ambassador to visit and the time and risks it takes.

Someone asked me whether I thought the visit was related to other recent news about Kremlin hostage taking or even the State Department and the White House mentioning Paul's case in the last week or so.  I don't.  The US Embassy staff visited Paul in late January and this visit fits into the relatively normal tempo of visits the Embassy makes to US citizens imprisoned in Mordovia, including wrongful detainees like Paul.

It was on that January visit that US consular staff brought Paul a batch of Christmas cards.  It was incredibly generous of Ms. Griner to speak out and call for people to write to Paul.  It has led to a huge rise in mail arriving for Paul in Russia.  95 of those cards were given to Paul on May 5th and 20 more on May 6th.  The 40 lbs. of mail the Canadian Embassy took to Paul in March may be given to Paul by late summer at this rate.

It may be worth clarifying that US Embassy activity in Russia doesn't necessarily reflect any activity underway in D.C.  The US Embassy staff has a different job from the White House officials in Paul's case.  Paul has had such strong advocates in Ambassadors Huntsman, Sullivan, and now Tracy.  Three waves of American Citizen Services staff have rotated through the Embassy in the last 52 months, each one supporting Paul and learning the ins and outs of helping him to keep money on his prison account and phone card.  But their role is to keep him alive while this injustice continues, not to get him released.  The people responsible for that are in Washington D.C. and the Kremlin.

We're grateful to President Biden for raising Paul's case again at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.  He has promised that he and his Administration will never stop fighting "until we get [Paul] home."  We also appreciate Speaker McCarthy and Leader Jeffries in the House for speaking out about the Kremlin's hostage-taking.  Hopefully this will fortify the impression that the U.S. government is of one mind—and not engaged in bipartisan attacks—about the evils of wrongful detention.  We continue to expect that all resources available to the White House to make a concession to the Kremlin are used to bring Paul home.  Otherwise fighting words are meaningless.