'I'm very disappointed': Paul Whelan, serving time in a Russian prison, is unhappy that he was not exchanged for Bout
American Paul Whelan, who is serving time in a Russian prison, expressed his disappointment that more was not done to secure his release. Initially, they planned to exchange him for the well-known arms dealer Viktor Bout, along with basketball player Brittney Griner. But in the end only Griner returned home, while Whelan remained in a Russian prison. Read more about this publication CNN.
Whelan said he was happy that Griner was free, but added, "I am very disappointed that nothing has been done to get my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is approaching."
“I was arrested for a crime that never happened,” he said in a telephone conversation from a penal colony where he is being held in a remote part of Russia. "I don't understand why I'm still sitting here."
The interview came shortly after US President Joe Biden, standing next to Griner Cherell's wife at the White House, expressed regret that the United States had failed to get Whelan out. Biden vowed that the US would "never give up" on him.
United States officials said the Russians had refused to negotiate for his release.
“It was not the situation where we had a choice of which American to bring home. We could bring home one particular American - Brittney Griner - or not bring home a single one, ”said a senior US administration official.
Whelan was surprised to be left.
“I was led to believe that everything is moving in the right direction, that governments are negotiating and something will happen pretty soon,” he said.
Whelan, a former Marine who is a US, Irish, British and Canadian citizen, was detained in a Moscow hotel in December 2018 by Russian authorities who claimed he was involved in an intelligence operation. He was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison in a trial that U.S. officials called unfair.
They stressed that the Russians, despite US efforts in negotiations, had refused to release Whelan. According to him, he was told that since the Russians accused the American of espionage, "they put me on a higher level than Brittney."
“This causes a lot of concern, because all this is not true. And they are trying to get something from the United States that the US may not be able to provide, but that is basically political extortion,” he said.
Whelan knows he's in a different category than Griner - "the Russians always said that."
“They have always considered me to be on a higher level than other criminals of my type, and for some reason I am treated differently than another person from a Western country who is also accused of being a spy. So although we are both here for espionage, I am treated very differently from him, and my treatment is also very different from the treatment of other prisoners for espionage in other prisons, ”Whelan said.
"My bags are packed"
Whelan hopes Biden and his administration will "do everything they can to get me home no matter the price they may have to pay."
“If President Biden could be told that this is a dangerous situation that needs to be resolved quickly,” he stressed. — My bags are packed. I'm ready to go home. I just need a plane to come and pick me up."
Whelan said he would like to speak to Biden directly. Earlier in the day, he spoke to an administration official about the situation, but he said "this message really needs to be conveyed to people like the president so that they personally understand what I mean."
“It is clear that I am being held hostage,” he assured.
“Unfortunately, for completely illegal reasons, Russia treats the Paul case differently than the Brittney case,” Biden said. “Although we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul's release, we are not giving up. We will never give up."
The Biden administration, a senior official said, has ideas about "new forms of proposals" they are going to try with the Russians to secure Whelan's release.
There is recognition, the official said, that the US must provide "something more, something different" than what it has offered the Russians so far.
Whelan believes that "the president and his team will have to look at what they have of value, what these people want, and hopefully give it to them, otherwise I will stay here for a long time."
The official did not rule out a trade for a Russian spy in US custody as Russia views Whelan as a spy.
“There is a willingness to pay even a very high price on the part of the president,” the official assured. “We made it clear to the Russians that we are open to talking about what we have at our disposal, about what we can really do.”
Biden spoke to Paul Whelan's sister, Elizabeth Whelan. According to her, they talked for about 10 minutes, she talked with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken for about 15 minutes.
Elizabeth praised Griner's release. She doesn't want the news that her brother stayed in Russia to overshadow the good news about the WNBA player.
Elizabeth Whelan is convinced that the Russians wanted to deprive Biden of the opportunity to release both illegally detained Americans.
She does not believe her brother is aware of the extent of the effort to free him and understands that the family must be careful what they say to him, as there are suggestions that the Russian authorities are listening to them. Elizabeth noted that Russia tends to invent news in its favor, so Paul Whelan most likely will not know the full picture until he is released.
National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby said the US is "not going back to square one" in its negotiations to release Whelan.
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“We have been actively negotiating with the Russians on the Whelan case for a very long time. Of course, these conversations have accelerated in recent months, and I can assure you that we are going to continue these active discussions in the future,” Kirby explained.
"Who knows how I will return, and if I will return"
Whelan expressed concern that he might not be able to return to his family in the United States and remarked that he had 12 years to serve in prison.
“My parents are getting older, my dog is 14 and a half years old. If I get stuck here for a long time, then I may never see any of them again, ”he worried.
Whelan worries that he himself may not get out: “To be honest, under these conditions, who knows how I will return, and whether I will return.”
He described the penal colony as "better than most in Russia, because it contains mainly foreigners, but the conditions are extremely poor."
“We only have cold water. Everywhere is dirty. There is no repair. Things are very old, 30-40-50 years old. And you know, what is not broken is not working. We don't have detergents. Medical care is substandard at best. And we really take care of ourselves,” he stated.
Whelan noted that the war in Ukraine had created a strong distrust of the Americans among other prisoners, and the Russians “say that I am a general in the US Armed Forces, that I am a spy, a secret agent. This puts me in a very dangerous position because people look at me at a very dangerous time and say, "You're one of them."
Whelan tries to stay sane. He reads many books and writes letters. He himself loves to receive letters, as well as postcards, "sports results, news articles, etc.," because "things like this coming into our world make me remember that this world still exists."
As ForumDaily wrote earlier:
- On February 17, American basketball star Britney Griner was taken into custody in Russia. Her trial was postponed all the timemost likely due to political reasons. In the end, she was awarded 9 years in prison.
- After months of internal debate, the Biden administration proposed a trade Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States, under potential deal to free two Americans held by Russia, Britney Griner and Paul Whelan.
- 8 December only Griner returned to the US, while Whelan remained in a Russian prison.
Read also on ForumDaily:
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stdClass Object ([term_id] => 13334 [name] => In the homeland [taxonomy] => category [slug] => novosti-rodini)At home
stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 32121 [name] => Paul Whelan [taxonomy] => post_tag [slug] => pol-uilan )Paul Whelan
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