- Paul Whelan, who is detained in Russia, told CNN that he isn’t sure why he’s still in captivity.
- The former Marine spoke from a remote prison and said it’s “obvious that he’s being “held hostage.”
- His interview on Thursday came after WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed in a prisoner swap.
Paul Whelan, a former US Marine who has been jailed in Russia since 2018, said on Thursday that he isn’t sure why he remains in captivity after Brittney Griner was released in a prisoner swap.
“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” the 52-year-old told CNN in a phone call from a remote Russian prison. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Whelan, a corporate security executive, was convicted on espionage charges in 2018 and sentenced two years later to 16 years in prison — a fate that the Biden administration considers unjust. In his interview with CNN, Whelan said he’s happy that Griner was freed but added that he’s “disappointed” that not enough has been done to secure his own freedom.
He said the Russians have treated him differently than other prisoners from Western countries who were also charged with espionage. He told the outlet that he is surprised to have not been released yet, adding that he was under the impression American and Russian negotiations were productive.
“I would say that if a message could go to President Biden, that this is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly,” he told CNN. “My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me.”
“It’s quite obvious that I’m being held hostage,” Whelan added.
Whelan’s interview on Thursday came after WNBA star Griner was released from Russian captivity in a one-for-one prisoner exchange with convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. After the swap, which took place in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates jumped in to take credit for negotiating the deal.
Celebrating Griner’s release, President Joe Biden posted photos to Twitter that showed him embracing the superstar’s wife, Cherelle. Biden said he spoke to Griner earlier in the day, and confirmed that she was “safe” and “on her way home.”
US officials, however, made it clear on Thursday that the Biden administration is still working to bring Whelan home. During a press conference, Biden said the US “never forgot about Brittney and we’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years.” He added that the US will “never give up” trying to secure Whelan’s release.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken later echoed Biden’s comments in a Thursday statement, and said that despite “ceaseless” efforts to try and free Whelan, Russia has been unwilling to end his “wrongful detention.”
“Nevertheless, we will not relent in our efforts to bring Paul and all other U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad home to their loved ones where they belong,” Blinken said.