Former US Marine Paul Whelan said Thursday that “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here” in a Russian prison, adding he was “disappointed” that the Biden administration has not done more to get him out after WNBA star Brittney Griner was sprung.
“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,” Whelan, 53, told CNN in an interview from the penal colony where he is being held.
“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Whelan added. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
The former Marine, who was detained at a Moscow hotel and accused of espionage in December 2018, said he feels like he’s been left behind by the Biden White House.
“My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me,” he pleaded.
Whelan, who was convicted in June 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison, said he was happy for Griner and her family, but claimed he “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.”
Biden administration officials said they had tried to negotiate Whelan’s release along with Griner, but it came down to a “choice between bringing home one particular American, Brittney Griner, or bringing home none.”
Whelan said because he was accused of being a spy, the Russians have “put me at a level higher than what they did with [fellow American detainee] Trevor [Reed] and Brittney.”
“That raises a lot of concerns because none of it is true,” he told CNN. “And they’re trying to get out of the United States what the United States may not be able to provide, but this is basically political extortion.”
Still, Whelan said he hopes Biden and other US officials “would do everything they could to get me home, regardless of the price they might have to pay at this point.”
“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 said.
Whelan said he talked to an administration official earlier Thursday but would like to plead his case directly to the president himself, “so they understand personally what I’m dealing with and what we deal with in these foreign prisons and under these circumstances … [it’s] quite obvious that I’m being held hostage.”
Paul Whelan’s brother David said their family does not “begrudge Ms. Griner her freedom.”
“As I have often remarked, Brittney’s and Paul’s cases were never really intertwined. It has always been a strong possibility that one might be freed without the other,” he said in a statement.
“I can’t even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns,” David Whelan added. “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 US.”
David Whelan also said he worries how his brother will persevere another 12 years in Russia.
“How do you continue to survive, day after day, when you know that your government has failed twice to free you from a foreign prison?” he said. “I can’t imagine he retains any hope that a government will negotiate his freedom at this point. It’s clear that the US government has no concessions that the Russian government will take for Paul Whelan. And so Paul will remain a prisoner until that changes.”