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Photo: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

Paul Whelan, the American businessman imprisoned in Russia on spying charges, called on President Biden to resolve the issue of U.S. citizens being detained for political reasons during his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin this month.

Why it matters: Whelan's message, delivered during an interview with CNN from a Russian labor camp, comes ahead of an early test for Biden's promise to hold Moscow to account for its abuses.

  • The June 16 summit in Geneva comes amid heightened tensions between the two countries, exacerbated by Russia's cyber activities, jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and aggression toward Ukraine, among other things.

What they're saying: "This is not an issue of Russia against me; it's an issue of Russia against the United States, and the United States needs to answer this hostage diplomacy situation and resolve it as quickly as possible," Whelan told CNN.

  • Whelan said the U.S. needs to take "decisive action" to stop U.S. citizens from being taken as foreign prisoners.
  • He called the upcoming summit "a good step in the right direction," and added that he knows Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken "are working towards my release and return home."
  • Blinken "called on Russia to release Paul Whelan" and Trevor Reed, another American being held in Russia, during a call with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in May, per a White House readout.

Background: The U.S. denounced Whelan's sentencing to 16 years in prison on an espionage charge last year as a violation of human rights and international legal norms, saying prosecutors produced no evidence of his guilt. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who is also an Irish, British and Canadian citizen, was first detained in 2018 and has denied the charges.

  • "It's pretty simple. There was no crime. There was no evidence. The secret trial was a sham," Whelan said in the interview. "This was done purely for political motive."
  • "The more people that understand that I'm innocent, and that no crime of espionage ever occurred, the better."

Go deeper

Nathan Bomey, author of Closer
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Tesla delays Cybertruck until 2023

Tesla debuts the Cybertruck in Hawthorne, Calif., on Nov. 21, 2019. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Tesla is at risk of falling behind on one of the most critical products in the American auto industry: pickups.

Why it matters: Pickups are the most profitable segment in the business and account for the first, second and third best-selling vehicles in the country. Without a serious pickup strategy, Tesla could miss out on a huge source of future income.

Defense taking steps to mitigate civilian harm after botched airstrikes

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on Sept. 1, 2021. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a directive Thursday to improve the U.S. military's approach to civilian harm mitigation and response, calling it a "strategic and a moral imperative."

Why it matters: The Pentagon has faced criticism for years for amassing civilian casualties in its missions, especially in the Middle East. New York Times investigations have found systemic failures in efforts to prevent civilian deaths, as well as a cover-up of a 2019 airstrike that killed dozens of women and children in Syria.

4 hours ago - World

Mapped: The world's most and least corrupt countries

Expand chart
Data: Transparency International; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

The most corrupt governments in the world are in South Sudan, Syria and Somalia, according to Transparency International's annual index, while the "cleanest" are in Denmark, Finland and New Zealand.

  • Breaking it down: The U.S. is 27th, China 66th, India 85th, Brazil 96th and Russia 136th. Scroll over the map to see each country's ranking.