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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

Updated 4 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

5 hours ago - World

Hong Kong holds first "patriots only" elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a news conference last Monday. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua via Getty Images

Hong Kong's elections to choose the city's Election Committee members opened to a select group of voters on Sunday, under a new "patriots only" system imposed by China's government.

Why it matters: All candidates running to be members of the electoral college have been "vetted" by Beijing, per Reuters. They will go on to choose the Asian financial hub's next leader, approved by China's government, and some of its legislature.

7 hours ago - World

Israeli forces capture final 2 escaped Palestinian prisoners

An Israeli security forces member on Saturday stands guard at the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, from where the six inmates escaped. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli forces captured the two remaining Palestinian prisoners who tunneled their way out of an Israeli maximum-security prison with four others in a "Shawshank Redemption"-style escape, authorities announced Sunday.

Why it matters: The escape sparked a massive manhunt and turned the prisoners into heroes in the West Bank and Gaza, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza threatening an escalation if they were harmed, per Axios' Barak Ravid.