US Marine Paul Whelan reacts to being left out of Brittney Griner prisoner swap in interview from Russian cell

US Marine tells CNN in new interview: ‘I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here’

Bevan Hurley
Thursday 08 December 2022 17:26 GMT
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Joe Biden says Brittney Griner is ‘on her way home’ after release from ‘hell’ of Russian prison
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Jailed US Marine Paul Whelan says he is “greatly disappointed” not to have been included in the Brittney Griner prisoner exchange in a new interview from his Russian prison cell.

Mr Whelan told CNN that while he welcomed Ms Griner’s release from Russian custody, he had been “led to believe things were moving in the right direction” with efforts to secure his release.

“I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here,” he told CNN.

Mr Whelan, a former US Marine, was convicted of espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison after his arrest in Moscow in 2018.

He strongly denies the charges, which the US State Department has described as “false”.

President Joe Biden said during a White House press conference on Thursday that Russia had refused to include in an exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

“It was a choice to get Brittney or nothing,” the US official told CNN.

Speaking to CNN, Mr Whelan said he was a victim of “political extortion”.

“They’ve always considered me to be at a higher level than other criminals of my sort and for whatever reason, I’m treated differently than another individual here from a Western country that’s also on a charge of espionage.”

He called on the Biden administration to do whatever it took to get him home, “regardless of the price they might have to pay”.

“My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me,” he told CNN.

Former US Marine Paul Whelan is serving a 16 year prison term on espionage charges (Moscow News Agency)

In a statement emailed to several news outlets, brother David Whelan expressed concern for Paul’s wellbeing after Ms Griner’s release.

“I can’t even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly four years of this injustice. His hopes had soared with the knowledge that the US government was taking concrete steps for once towards his release. He’d been worrying about where he’d live when he got back to the US.”

Mr Whelan, a 52-year-old US, Irish, British and Canadian citizen, was arrested in December 2018 at a Moscow hotel.

He has been serving his sentence at a labour camp in Moldavia, about 200 miles from Moscow, where he works long hours in a clothing factory.

David Whelan’s statement continued: “And now what? How do you continue to survive, day after day, when you know that your government has failed twice to free you from a foreign prison? I can’t imagine he retains any hope that a government will negotiate his freedom at this point.”

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner pictured during a court appearance in Moscow earlier this year ( Associated Press)

David Whelan said it was clear that the US government had no concessions to offer that the Russians were interested in.

“Increasingly, I worry that Paul himself won’t survive 12 more years in a Russian labour colony. He has tried to stay healthy but one wonders how long that determination to keep going can endure.”

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