Day 1721 - Paul Whelan - IK-17 Mordovia Russia - September 14, 2023 - Ambassador Tracy Visit

Paul has been a hostage of the Russian goverment for 1,721 days.  And, as the authors of a new report from The Soufan Center point out, the term to use is hostage.  The use of "arbitrarily detained" or even "wrongfully detained" gives the legal laundering by the hostage-taker some credibility.

Here's the link to the report: Citizens for Leverage:  Navigating State Hostage-Taking in a Shifting Geopolitical Landscape (Vina Nadjibulla and Stephanie Foggett, The Soufan Center).  Thanks to ABC for flagging it for my attention.  It's a good summary of where we are—and aren't—on data and approaches to rescuing hostages.  The country-by-country review highlights issues like Canada's lack of a mandate to provide consular services, and the potential impact to dual-nationals like Paul.  I especially appreciate their understanding of the shift from terrorist hostage-taking to state hostage-taking for families:

There is limited room for private action or negotiation by family members to resolve state hostage cases with perpetrator states. In some scenarios with non-state actors, especially entities that are not designated terrorist organizations, there is space for private action and negotiation, especially around financial concessions.... Only political and diplomatic discussions between their own national government and the perpetrator state will move these cases to a resolution.

For those of you who have been with us since January 2019, a lot of this will be familiar, including issues like the challenges caused by diplomatic staff turnover.

Not surprisingly, the report leans heavily on the Foley Foundation's annual reports, the latest of which was also just released: Bringing Americans Home 2023 (Cynthia Loertscher, The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation).  The Foley report looks beyond the US, Canada, and UK and includes perspectives from recently released hostages and detainees.  It includes a greater amount of data for those seeking it.

Both reports offer recommendations on how to continue to respond to these hostage-takings.  I hope you will reach out to the report authors and follow up with the US government about the recommendations.

As the US Embassy in Moscow announced yesterday on X (9/13/2023), Ambassador Tracy was able to visit with Paul.  We appreciate the incredible effort that it takes for US consular staff, let alone the Ambassador, to visit Paul.  It is good for him to hear directly from the US that his release remains a priority.  The prison refused to accept a package and mail brought by the staff.  Embassy staff will have to return to Moscow and then mail it to the prison.  It wouldn't be Russian bureaucracy if it didn't involve some arbitrary application of rules, it seems.

Unfortunately, President Biden did not meet with Elizabeth this week as she had sought.  A meeting would have reinforced the message to the Kremlin, already sent by Ambassador Tracy's visit and Secretary of State Blinken's phone call, that Paul's case remains a top priority for the US government.  A meeting would also have given Elizabeth some reassurance that, as the decision-maker, the President was directly aware of our concerns that a resolution has still not been found to bring Paul home.  But the lack of a meeting doesn't create any doubt for us that Paul's release remains a priority.  I'm confident Elizabeth will continue to convey our concerns through her contacts with members of Congress and staff at the State Department and National Security Council.