Detained American Paul Whelan expressed his frustration that more was not being done to secure his release in an exclusive CNN interview hours after another American was arrested. Brittney Grinerwas released.
Whelan said he was glad Griner was freed, but told CNN, “I’m very disappointed that more efforts haven’t been made to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up.”
“I was arrested for a crime that never happened,” he said in a phone call from a penal colony in a remote part of Russia. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
The interview came shortly after President Joe Biden stood with Kreiner’s wife, Cherelle, at the White House and expressed regret that the United States was unable to expel Whelan. Biden vowed America would “never abandon” him. US officials said the Russians had refused to negotiate for his release.
Whelan said he was surprised he was behind.
“I was hoping that things were moving in the right direction, that governments were negotiating and that something would happen soon,” he said.
Whelan, a former marine who holds US, Irish, British and Canadian citizenship, was detained in a Moscow hotel in December 2018 by Russian authorities on suspicion of espionage. He was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison, which US authorities condemned as unfair.
U.S. officials have indicated that the Russians have refused to release him despite U.S. efforts at negotiations, and Whelan said he was told that “they put me in a higher position than they did” because the Russians accused him of being a spy. Trevor (Reed) and Britney.”
“It raises a lot of concerns because none of it is true. They are trying to get out of the US and the US may not be able to deliver, but this is basically political extortion,” he said.
He said he knew he was considered in a different category than Kreiner — “the Russians always said that.”
“They always hold me at a higher level than other criminals of my kind, and for whatever reason, I’m treated differently than another person here from a Western country accused of espionage. So even though we’re both here for spying, I’m treated differently than he is, and my treatment is very different than other people in other prisons for spying,” Whelan said.
Whelan said he believes Biden and his administration will “do everything they can to get me home at this point, regardless of the price they have to pay.”
“If a message goes out to President Biden, I would say this is a dangerous situation that needs to be addressed quickly,” he said.
“My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I need a plane to come and pick me up,” he said.
Whalen said he wanted to speak directly to Biden, noting he spoke to an administration official earlier in the day about the situation, but “I think the message really needs to go to people like the president so they understand personally what I’m about. What we deal with and deal with in these foreign prisons and in these situations.
“It’s very obvious that I’m being held hostage,” he said.
Whelan expressed concern that he should not return to the United States, noting that he had 12 years left on his sentence.
Biden acknowledged the Whelan family on Thursday, saying the detainee swap for Griner was “not a choice about which American to bring home.”
“Unfortunately, for completely illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Britney’s,” Biden said. “Although we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we have not given up. We will never give up.
John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said later Thursday that the United States was “not back to square one” in negotiations for Whelan’s release.
“We have been in serious discussions with the Russians for a very long time regarding Mr Whelan’s case. Certainly those conversations have accelerated in recent months, and I can assure you that we’re going to continue to have those active discussions,” Whelan told CNN’s Kate Bolduan.
Earlier on Thursday, Paul Whelan’s brother David said his family was “devastated” and expressed concern that his brother had fallen behind again.
“It’s a great day for the families of those who have been wrongfully detained, and we feel wonderful for them,” David Whelan said on “CNN This Morning.” “But we are worried about what the future holds for Paul. I think it’s clear that the US doesn’t have any concessions that the Russian government wants for Paul. So I don’t know what the future holds.
In an earlier report, David Whelan said the family was “devastated” because Paul was in Russia.
“Despite the possibility of an exchange without Paul, our family is still devastated. I cannot fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to live from this injustice for nearly 4 years,” she said in the statement.