Biden expected to confront Putin on former Marines imprisoned in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden. Credit: Getty Images via CBS News.

President Biden is expected to raise the fate of two former U.S. Marines held in Russian prisons when he meets with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, according to White House officials.

Last year, Paul Whelan was convicted by a Russian court of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Whelan, who also holds British, Irish and Canadian passports, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018. Prosecutors alleged he was working for American intelligence and was caught receiving a USB drive containing classified information. Whelan has denied he was a spy and said he was set up.

David Whelan, Paul’s brother, sent a recorded statement from the imprisoned American to reporters on Tuesday ahead of the summit.

“President Biden, after 30 months of being wrongfully detained by the Russian government — which is twice as long as American citizens were held hostage in Tehran — I implore you to bring this appalling case of hostage diplomacy to an end. I remain innocent. No crime of espionage occurred. The secret trial, without evidence, proves those facts. The abduction of an American tourist cannot stand,” Whelan said.

Paul Whelan in 2019.


David Whelan said his brother made the statement in a May 30 phone call to their parents and wanted it released before Mr. Biden’s meeting with his Russian counterpart.

Trevor Reed also made a plea for freedom on Monday in audio obtained by CBS News. “I’ve spent my whole life in the service of my country and I would appreciate it if my country would bring me home,” he said.

Reed was arrested in 2019 and charged with assaulting police officers after a drunken birthday party in Moscow. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Trevor Reed in 2020.
GETTY via CBS News.

Reed’s mother, who spoke to CBS News, said a successful summit would mean “they are making a plan to free him soon.”

“It’s not going to happen overnight, he’s not going to fly home with the president. At least that there is some good talks that they agree that he will be coming home soon,” Paula Reed said.

“It’s the most hopeful we’ve been in almost two years,” Reed’s father, Joey, said.

Putin told NBC News ahead of the summit that he is open to a possible prisoner swap. But Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told Russian media that Whelan was not an option for a swap. U.S. officials have said a swap is off the table.

Kaci Sokoloff contributed reporting.

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