US and Irish Embassy officials were able to visit with Paul Whelan at his remote penal colony in Russia on Wednesday, his brother said in an email.
His last in-person visit was in June. A State Department official confirmed the visit. Whelan has US, Canadian, British, and Irish citizenships.
Discussions between the US and Russia to try to secure the release of Whelan and Brittney Griner, who has been moved to a penal colony in the same region of Russia, have yet to yield a result. The US has put forward a “significant proposal,” which CNN reported includes a prisoner exchange for Viktor Bout.
“As the lack of an exchange drags on, I’m increasingly concerned about how this will affect his ability to continue,” David Whelan said. “It must be awfully hard to maintain hope in his position, knowing of the possibility of freedom, no matter how much stability he is able to carve out. And the possibility of an exchange has given him some hope, even thoughts to what he might have to do to restart his life. It will be devastating for him if there is not a resolution that sees him free, brings him home, with our family.”
David said that “Paul spoke to our parents yesterday about the visit and said that they discussed many of the same topics as he had with the UK Embassy staff last week.”
“He seems to have found an equilibrium where he can survive without being worried about punishment or retaliation from guards. Paul told our parents he’s picked up a few Russian words, as well as a few in Tajik and the languages of other prisoners at IK-17,” he said.
“As in the past, food, that Paul had requested that the US Embassy bring to supplement his meagre prison rations, was refused by the prison,” David Whelan continued. “The regulations have changed recently and canned food was banned. In a typical outcome, the prison allowed canned food but opened it all to see what was inside, so it is now all perishable. Then they denied other food that was non-perishable. Some prisoners are able to purchase local fresh fruits and vegetables but it requires access to a Russian bank account. Paul ends up bartering where he can for fresh food.”
On Thursday, Griner’s lawyers confirmed she had been transferred to a penal colony in Yavas, in the western Russian region of Mordovia, ending days of speculation over her whereabouts.
Her attorneys, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, thanked everyone who has reached out in support.
“First, on behalf of Brittney, we would like to thank everyone who has expressed care for her,” they said in a statement. “We can confirm that Brittney began serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia.”
“We visited her early this week. Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment. Considering that this is a very challenging period for her, there will be no further comments from us.”
On Wednesday, the US State Department said it had been in touch with Griner’s legal team and was aware of reports she had been sent to a penal colony roughly a seven-hour drive southeast of Moscow.