Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 24, 2023
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good morning, everyone. I am really honored to be joined today by Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister, and by my colleagues from Canada and Ireland.
In a few moments, we will head into the Security Council for a meeting about how we can make multilateralism more effective and defend the UN Charter.
But it’s impossible to ignore the giant elephant in the room: Russia. Russia, the convener of today’s meeting, invaded its neighbors in Ukraine and struck at the heart of the UN Charter. And Russia, time and time again, has violated universal human rights and fundamental freedoms – both outside and inside its own borders. That includes arbitrarily detaining political activists, journalists, and opposition leaders, as well as the wrongful detention of American citizens.
Right now, Paul Whelan is in a Russian penal colony simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And right now, Evan Gershkovich is being wrongfully detained by the Russian government simply for doing his job as a respected journalist, as you are doing here today.
Of course, Paul and Evan are also beloved friends. They are sons. They are brothers. There is a human cost to Russia’s violation of international norms, to its barbaric practice of using people as political pawns. That cost is borne by those detained, but also by their family and friends, as Paul’s sister – here with me today – can attest to.
Since the earliest days of this Administration, we have sought to bring Paul Whelan home. As Secretary Blinken said recently, the United States has made a proposal for Paul’s release, and we urge Russia to move on that proposal. It’s time to let Paul come home.
In the meantime, we will not stop, we will not rest, and we will not relent until Paul, Evan, and all hostages and wrongfully detained Americans are brought back, safe and sound.
Thank you very much. And with that, I’d like to turn the floor over to Elizabeth.
MS. ELIZABETH WHELAN: Thank you very much. One second, I have some notes.
I’m Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, who has been wrongfully detained in Russia since December 2018.
When on a visit to Moscow, Paul Whelan was set up by the Russian security services, the FSB, and arrested on false charges of espionage. He was held for a year and a half at Lefortovo prison, where journalist Evan Gershkovich is currently being held on the same charges.
This Russian playbook is so lazy that even Evan has the same investigator, a man who harassed and interrogated my brother until Paul’s sham trial in June of 2020, when Paul was given a horrific sentence of 16 years for a crime he did not commit.
Now Paul is being held in labor camp IK-17 in the remote province of Mordovia, held as a pawn and victim of Russia’s descent into lawlessness.
Paul has not committed a crime, but a crime has been committed against him.
I no longer know what my brother looks like. The images that we see on television and in the news? That’s Paul Whelan in the life he was living before he was taken captive. No one has been allowed to take a photo of him since his trial almost three years ago.
Paul was a corporate security director. He had a job he loved, a home, a life of hope and opportunity. All that has been taken away from him by Russia, a country that revels in its culture of lies, its tradition of hostage-diplomacy.
Russia’s less-than-sophisticated take on diplomacy is to arbitrarily detain American citizens in order to extract concessions from the United States. This is not the work of a mature and responsible nation; it is the action of a terrorist state.
Paul was first in what has been an escalating series of wrongful detentions by Russia. First my brother Paul Whelan, then Trevor Reed, both tourists. The sports star Brittney Griner. And now the journalist Evan Gershkovich.
And who will be their next victim? It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see that Russia will continue to push the boundaries.
I am here today to tell the global community that one way to engage in effective multilateralism is to confront those countries that resort to hostage-diplomacy.
And I am here to tell Russia: Free Paul Whelan.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you all. Thank you very much.