“My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me.”
Marine Paul Whelan has been in a Russian prison for four years. Russia accused Whelan of spying in 2018 and convicted him in 2020.
Whelan and the United States government claim the charges are not true.
This morning, President Joe Biden gloated with the successful prisoner swap for WNBA player Brittney Griner for an arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death.”
This is the second time Biden left behind Whelan.
“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. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” he said in an exclusive phone call from the penal colony where is being held in a remote part of Russia. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Whelan said he was happy that Griner was released but told CNN 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.”
When asked if he was surprised not to have been included in the swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, he told CNN he was.
Whelan, former marine who is a US, Irish, British and Canadian citizen, 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 US officials denounced as unfair.
US officials have indicated that the Russians refused to release him despite US efforts at negotiations, and Whelan said he was told that because the Russians have accused him of being a spy, “they’ve put me at a level higher than what they did with Trevor (Reed) and Brittney.”
Whelan wants Biden to know he’s in a “precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly.”
More from CNN:
“My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me,” he said.
Whelan said he would like to speak to Biden directly, noting he had spoken to an administration official earlier in the day about the situation, but “I think that message really needs to go to people like the president 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,” he said.
Whelan expressed concern that he might not make it back to the United States, noting he has 12 years left in his prison sentence.
Biden and others provided nothing but empty words and the usual talking points to the Whelan family this morning:
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.”
National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said later on Thursday that the US is “not back to square one” in its negotiations for Whelan’s release.
“We have been in active discussions with the Russians on Mr. Whelan’s case for a very, very long time. Certainly those conversations accelerated in recent months and I can assure you that we are going to stay at those active discussions going forward,” Whelan told CNN’s Kate Bolduan.
Whelan has no idea why Russia treats him differently than other prisoners, including another charged and convicted of espionage:
He said he was aware that he was considered in a different category than Griner – “the Russians have always said so.”
“They’ve always considered me to be at a higher level than other criminals of my sort and for whatever reason, I’m treated differently than another individual here from a Western country that’s also on a charge of espionage. So even though we’re both here for espionage, I’m treated much differently than he is, and my treatment is also much different than others held for espionage at other prisons,” Whelan said.
As soon as CNN makes the segment sharable, I will post it.
Here is an interview with Whelan’s brother David.DONATE
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