Detained American Paul Whelan says he is happy that the Biden administration was able to secure WNBA player Brittney Griner’s release from Russia in a prisoner swap but is “greatly disappointed” that it hasn’t been able to secure his.
“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 said in a phone interview with CNN from the penal colony where he is being held in a remote part of Russia. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Whelan said 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.”
The Biden administration announced Thursday that Griner was freed in exchange for Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer who had been serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.
Whelan’s brother, David, said Thursday that the Biden administration “made the right decision” in agreeing to the prisoner swap that freed Griner.
“I am so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home,” David Whelan said in a lengthy statement. “As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays.
“There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home,” David Whelan continued. “The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”
Earlier this year, the White House reportedly offered to exchange Bout as part of a potential deal to secure the release of Griner and Whelan.
Griner was detained in Moscow on drug-related charges in February and later sentenced to nine years in prison. Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive and former U.S. Marine, has been jailed in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges.
David Whelan said that U.S. officials let the family know in advance that Paul would not be part of the Griner-Bout swap.
“That early warning meant that our family has been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us,” David Whelan said. “And a catastrophe for Paul.”
Griner is the second American to be released in a prisoner swap with Russia this year. Trevor Reed, a 30-year-old U.S. Marine veteran, was released in a prisoner swap with Moscow in April.
At the White House, President Biden said that the U.S. has not given up on securing Whelan’s release.
“We did not forget about Brittney, and we have not forgotten about Paul,” Biden said. “This was not a choice of which American to bring home.”
“We brought home Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year,” the president continued. “Sadly, for illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up.”