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U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan told CNN on Thursday that he was “greatly disappointed” that President Joe Biden’s deal to secure Brittney Griner’s release from a Russian prison did not also include a release for him.
Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly four years since his arrest, is currently serving 16 years in a penal colony for a crime that he says never happened. The Canadian-born Marine veteran — who holds U.S., British, and Irish citizenship — was arrested in 2018 and accused of espionage. He was sentenced to prison two years later.
Although he was happy to see Griner released, he was disappointed to have been left behind, Whelan told CNN’s Jennifer Hansler from the Russian prison on Thursday.
“[Whelan] has been there nearly 4 years on espionage charges … He was very disappointed that he was left behind, though he was very happy that Brittney Griner got out.”
— The Recount (@therecount) December 8, 2022
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Whelan said. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Whelan also told Hansler that in the days and weeks leading up to the prisoner swap — Griner for international arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is also known as the “Merchant of Death” — he had actually begun to believe that there was some hope he would be included in the deal.
Whelan’s family also released a statement in the wake of the news, saying that it was always a great day when a wrongfully imprisoned person was released, but that they still hoped for the day it would happen for him.
His brother noted that the family had been warned ahead of the news breaking that Paul would not be a part of the swap, adding, “That early warning meant that our family has been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us. And a catastrophe for Paul. I do not know if he is aware yet, although he will surely learn from Russian media … I can’t even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly 4 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 U.S.”
Whelan’s family made it clear that they did not begrudge Griner gaining her freedom, noting that the two cases were separate and that there had always been a chance that they would be freed one at a time.