As news spread that Brittney Griner, a professional basketball player for the United States, had been released from a Russian prison in exchange for Viktor Bout, a former arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” the response from American officials was swift and harsh.
He was referring to the exclusion of Paul Whelan, 52, a former marine turned corporate security executive who is currently serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage (which he denies).
“I really, really wish we could have brought Paul home today on the same plane as Britney,” Mr. Blinken said. Nonetheless, we won’t give up!
Who Is Paul Whelan And Why Is He In Prison?
Whelan served in the United States Marine Corps from 2003 until he was dishonorably discharged in 2008 for larceny and other minor offenses. He was born in Canada and holds citizenship in four countries.
While he was detained in Russia, he was serving as the head of global security for BorgWarner, an auto parts manufacturer based in Michigan.
The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Whelan in a hotel room at the Metropol in Moscow, close to the Kremlin, a few days after Christmas in 2018. An intelligence colonel or higher, he was allegedly busted red-handed in possession of a computer flash drive containing highly sensitive information.
Whelan claimed that he was duped into accepting the drive from a Russian friend in a sting operation by saying that he thought the drive contained vacation photos while he was in Russia for a friend’s wedding.
Whelan was found guilty of spying in 2020 and given a 16-year sentence at a maximum security prison after a trial that took place entirely behind closed doors and was described as unfair and opaque by US diplomats.IK-17, a penal colony located in the Mordovia region east of Moscow, is where he is presently detained.
How Come He Wasn’t Part Of The Prisoner Exchange?
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that they “didn’t want to lose the opportunity to secure the release of one of them,” so they released only one of the hostages.
“Over the course of the last 24 hours, we’ve had multiple conversations with Paul Wheelan. Lastly, I’d like to say that, in addition to being incredibly brave, he is also incredibly kind “He elaborated by saying.
The Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, echoed this sentiment, saying that the United States would never stop trying to secure Whelan’s release, but that the prisoner swap involving Griner had limited their options.
“Unfortunately, and for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” he said. And though we haven’t been able to get Paul released just yet, we’re not giving up!
On Twitter, People Argue About Former US Marine Paul Whelan
A former US Marine, Paul Whelan, has been imprisoned in Russia since Brittney Griner’s arrest, and his release has sparked a new online debate.
While some have criticized the Obama administration for leaving Whelan out of the US-Russia prisoner swap deal, others have dug up the former marine’s past to highlight the fact that he was dishonorably discharged in 2008:
While some Twitter users kept asking for Whelan to be brought home after Griner, others argued:
As comments piled up online, Paul Whelan, who was left behind in the swap deal and is currently being held in a Russian prison, spoke to CNN from behind bars to express his “great disappointment” at being abandoned by the United States. Adding that he had been the target of “political extortion,” he said:
At the same time, the Independent reported that Vice President Biden had said to the press, “There was not a choice of which American to bring home.” Officials stressed that they will keep trying to secure Paul Whelan’s release even though they were unable to do so at this time.
“We have not forgotten about Whelan,” the Biden administration said, adding that they intend to “keep negotiating in good faith for his release.”
What Has The Whelan Family Said?
David Whelan issued a statement after Ms. Griner’s release, saying that the family had been informed by the Biden administration that Paul would not be released as part of the exchange.
Because of the forewarning, “our family has been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us,” the statement continued. The disaster for Paul was complete.
The Whelans “do not begrudge Ms. Griner her freedom,” but they do think “it is clear that the US government needs to be more assertive,” as David Whelan put it.
When pressed for more detail, he said, “If bad actors like Russia are going to grab innocent Americans, the US needs a swifter, more direct response, and to be prepared in advance.” “At this point, I seriously doubt that Paul still has any faith that a government will negotiate for his freedom. Clearly, the United States government has no bargaining chips that the Russian government is willing to accept in exchange for Paul Whelan. Because of this, Paul will remain incarcerated until that situation alters.”
U.S. officials claim they have made every effort to negotiate Whelan’s release as a political prisoner, but so far, their efforts have been unsuccessful. Many are wondering why Whelan keeps getting overlooked when the White House has managed to secure the release of two other prisoners already this year.
“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Whelan said in a recent interview with CNN. The reason I’m still here eludes me.
Another former Marine, Trevor Reed, was released from a Russian prison in April 2022 after serving nine years for assaulting a police officer. Reed was released from Russian custody in exchange for the release of Russian drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshensko from American custody. Biden said at the time, “We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of his family and friends.”