Detained American Paul Whelan expressed frustration on Thursday that President Joe Biden has not done more to secure his release from a Russian prison.
Hours after the U.S. government announced Brittney Griner had been freed in a controversial prisoner swap, Whelan spoke with CNN from the high-security penal colony where he is imprisoned in eastern Russia.
“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.
At the announcement of Griner’s release, Biden claimed Russia is treating Whelan’s case differently, and, according to CNN, Russia is refusing to negotiate Whelan’s release. But according to Whelan, he was told negotiations had been moving in the right direction.
“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,” he told CNN.
“I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here,” he exclaimed.
The prisoner for whom Russia exchanged Griner is Viktor Bout — otherwise known as “the Merchant of Death” — a notorious international arms dealer who was imprisoned in the U.S. for conspiring to kill Americans and for providing material aid to a terrorist organization. The seriousness of Bout’s crimes is precisely why Whelan, and most people for that matter, had believed Bout would be traded for Whelan.
Whelan has maintained his innocence.
“It’s quite obvious that I’m being held hostage,” Whelan told CNN.
What do US officials say?
Government officials say that Moscow offered an ultimatum: Take home Griner in exchange for Bout or take home no one.
“This was not a situation where we had a choice of which American to bring home. It was a choice between bringing home one particular American — Brittney Griner — or bringing home none,” a senior Biden administration official told CNN.
Whelan, a decorated former U.S. Marine, was arrested in December 2018 while visiting Moscow. He was later convicted of espionage, charges the U.S. claims are a sham, and sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison.