Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Joint Interview with Elizabeth Whelan on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with George Stephanopoulos

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 25, 2023


QUESTION: We are back with our GMA cover story. Paul Whelan has been held in Russia for more than four years, and America’s UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called for his release in a dramatic session of the UN Security Council yesterday with Paul’s sister Elizabeth in attendance. They both join us this morning. Thank you for joining us. That was quite an extraordinary moment at the UN yesterday. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was chairing the meeting when you confronted him. Do you think that anything, though, is going to move the Russians on this matter?

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The Russians heard a powerful message from me, but they also heard strong messages from the other 13 members of the Security Council. They didn’t have a single voice in the room supporting their unprovoked and aggressive actions against the Ukrainians. So, I hope that he takes this message for what it was, and I hoped that he would look in Elizabeth’s face and see what their actions are doing to a family member, and I think he did.

QUESTION: What did you see when you looked in his face yesterday?

ELIZABETH WHELAN: Well, I was surprised he looked in my direction at all. I really expected him just to shuffle papers. But I was really glad that he looked up and saw me standing there as the face of my brother. My brother is in a forced labor camp in a distant province, not somebody that he has to – that Lavrov has to deal with at all. But to be there, a physical presence reminding him about Paul’s wrongful detention, I think it probably made the point.

QUESTION: Your family has not been shy about saying that they believe the United States should be doing more to get your brother home. They’ve even said he felt – they felt abandoned by the administration. Are you satisfied with what President Biden and his administration are doing?

MS WHELAN: There are so many very good and intelligent people who are committed to getting Paul home, but we are always concerned. Paul has been left behind twice. That’s just a fact. And it’s really important that we stress that that cannot happen again. Paul Whelan must be a part of any deal that happens in the future. But I do have faith that we are going to be able to get him back.

QUESTION: There have been some talks. I mean, were offers made?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: An offer has been put on the table. Secretary Blinken put an offer on the table and we are pushing the Russians to accept that offer and allow Paul to get back home to his family. Elizabeth said yesterday she doesn’t know what her brother looks like. That was a powerful message for all of us to hear.

QUESTION: That is so striking. You haven’t spoken to your brother in what, five years?

MS WHELAN: Yeah. I spoke to him sometime before Christmas in 2018 when he was telling us that he was going to go and help this friend of his in Moscow, and he was sorry that he wasn’t going to be able to join us for Christmas. And so Paul is able to talk to my parents in short calls at this time; they’re the only people here that he can call. But I haven’t seen a photo of him, I haven’t heard his voice. We miss him terribly.

QUESTION: What have you been able to learn from your parents in those very short phone calls?

MS WHELAN: Well, extraordinarily, yesterday he was able to say that he’d actually seen us at the UN. He had actually – somehow the Russian broadcast included me standing up right there at the United Nations.

QUESTION: I’m surprised at that as well.



QUESTION: Yeah. And so he was able to see and hear what was happening, and they let him see. That’s interesting as well.

MS WHELAN: Exactly. So I don’t know whether he heard any of our words or what we said, but the fact that he knows that we’re standing up for him, that we have not given up, that the United Nations has now heard about Paul Whelan – I think that’s really important to him.

QUESTION: Of course Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter, is also being held now in Russia. Do you expect that if there’s going to be some kind of an agreement here it’ll be a package deal?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t say what will happen. What I can say is that we’re committed to bringing both of them and all Americans who have been unfairly arrested and held in Russia home. And we work around the clock to do that, and we will continue to do that.

QUESTION: We are all thinking of them. Thank you for coming in this morning.