White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was speaking with reporters at the White House this past Thursday afternoon and she attempted to explain why WNBA player Brittney Griner was released from Russian custody while U.S. Marine Paul Whelan remains falsely imprisoned.
“The Russians were not willing to negotiate in good faith at this time for the release of Paul Whelan,” Jean-Pierre said. “It was either Brittney or no one at all.”
What makes all of this so excruciating is that Brittany is free and now this worldwide criminal is free, and one of our few good men still is being unjustly held in a dreadful Russian prison.
In an interview with CNN, Whelan shared deep frustration with the U.S. government due to their failure to get him home.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the fourth anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Whelan told CNN. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.” He finished by saying that he has his bags packed. I just need an airplane to come and get me.”
The family of Whelan also expressed disappointment about the lack of progress in his case. The marine’s brother, David Whelan, said that he was glad that Brittney Griner was on her way home. But he also said that his brother has worked so hard to survive after almost 4 years of unjust imprisonment in Russia. And when he heard about the work being done by the White House administration, his hopes soared.
Whelan’s brother went on to question how Paul is meant to survive day after day when he knows his government has failed twice to free him from a foreign prison. He said he doesn’t believe his brother can retain any hope that the White House administration will be able to negotiate his freedom at this point, they just don’t seem to have any concessions that the Russian government will take for Paul.
Paul said, “I was led to believe that things were moving in the right direction, and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon.”
President Biden just vowed the United States would “never give up” on him. Biden acknowledged the Whelan family on Thursday, saying that the prisoner swap for Griner was “not a choice of which American to bring home.”
“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” Biden said. “And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”
But those words sound hollow to the Whelan family and especially to Paul.
Whelan was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 by Russian authorities who alleged he was involved in an intelligence operation. He was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison in a trial a US official denounced as unfair.
CNN’s Kate Bolduan asked Paul Whelan if he thought he would face repercussions for speaking to CNN, and Whelan said he didn’t think so.
“I’m not trying to shine a negative light on Russia per se, I’m just trying to tell it how it is. I’m trying to get a message through to my governments that I need help,” he said.
“If it is a risk, then it’s a risk I am willing to take because I think the message needs to get out,” he added. “And I’ve kind of sat quietly by for a long time, and at this point I’m frustrated that nothing’s being done, and I just don’t know what roadmap people are looking at to get me home,” Whelan said.
And then he said, “To be quite honest, in these conditions, who knows how I’ll come back or if I’ll come back.”