Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich have been held “hostages” by Moscow, the US envoy told the UN Security Council.
The U.S. envoy to the United Nations has appealed directly to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, urging him to release two U.S. citizens currently detained in Russia.
At a U.N. Security Council meeting chaired by Lavrov on Monday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield urged Russia to release former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.
“I now call on you to immediately release Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, let Paul and Evan go home. And stop this barbaric practice once and for all,” the ambassador said at UN headquarters in New York City.
She added that the individuals were being used as “political bargaining chips” and “hostages”.
“Taking people as pawns is a weak strategy. These are not the actions of a responsible state. While Russia is playing political games, real people are suffering,” Thomas Greenfield said.
Earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration formally characterized Gershkovich as “wrongly detained.” Russia arrested him on espionage charges in late March.
The Wall Street Journal and press freedom groups have dismissed the baseless allegations, and Washington has repeatedly called on Moscow to release the journalist.
For his part, Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on espionage charges that the US has denied were false.
Thomas-Greenfield urged Lavrov to “look her in the eyes and see her pain” when Whelan’s sister Elizabeth appeared in the UN Security Council chamber on Monday.
“I want you to see what it’s like to miss your brother for four years. To know that he is being held in Russian exile simply because you want to use him for your own ends,” the US envoy said.
Later in the day, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan took a moment to “endorse and praise” Elizabeth Whelan’s remarks at a White House news conference.
“She was an incredible voice for those of us outraged by the wrongful detention,” Sullivan said.
He also criticized Russia for “rejecting” attempts to bring Whelan back to the United States. “We’re going to keep working until we bring Paul home, we’re going to keep working until we bring home Evan and every American wrongfully detained or held hostage around the world,” Sullivan said.
Late last year, Russia released American basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained in Moscow last year on drug possession charges, as part of a prisoner swap that did not include Whelan, raising concerns about his fate .
The detention of Greener and other U.S. citizens has exacerbated tensions between Washington and Moscow after Russia invaded Ukraine last February.
On Sunday, Russia accused U.S. authorities of denying visas to journalists who wanted to cover Lavrov’s trip to New York, and Russia’s foreign minister suggested Moscow take retaliatory measures.
Lavrov said before leaving the Russian capital: “A country that claims to be the strongest, the brightest, the free and the fair, by showing the true value of its oath to protect freedom of speech and access to information, backs down and does some stupid things. matter.”
“Make sure we don’t forget and we don’t forgive,” he said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov added that his country “will find ways to respond to this and make the Americans remember not to do this for a long time”.
The State Department had no immediate comment on the claims of the visa denial.