Whelan: 'I Don't Understand Why I'm Still Sitting Here'

He's glad Griner is free, but 'greatly disappointed' he's still being held in Russia
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2022 12:26 PM CST
Whelan: 'I Don't Understand Why I'm Still Sitting Here'
Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner's wife, speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WNBA star Brittney Griner is on her way back to the US after a prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Relatives of another American still imprisoned in Russia say that while the deal was the right thing to do, this is still a painful moment for them—and him. Paul Whelan, a former Marine, was arrested in Russia four years ago on spying charges that the US says were fabricated. In 2020, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison after a trial the US ambassador called "a mockery of justice." More:

  • Whelan is "greatly disappointed." Whelan, who is being held in a remote penal colony, tells CNN that he is disappointed more hasn't been done to secure his release. "I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” he says. "I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here." "It's quite clear that I'm being held hostage," says the 52-year-old, who is worried that he won't survive to the end of his sentence. He says that while he's happy Griner is free, he "was led to believe that things were moving in the right direction" and that "something would happen fairly soon." His message for President Biden: "This is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly. My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me."

  • Whelan's twin brother speaks out. In a statement to ABC, David Whelan said that while he wants to make it very clear that the family does not "begrudge Ms. Griner her freedom" and "the cases were never really intertwined," seeing his twin brother left behind is "a public disappointment for us. And a catastrophe for Paul. ... 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."
  • Biden will "never give up" on efforts to free Whelan. President Biden and Cherelle Griner, Griner's wife, both mentioned Whelan when they spoke about Griner's release Thursday, Sports Illustrated reports. "We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years," 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. Sadly, for totally 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 will not give up. We will never give up."

  • Cherelle Griner "overwhelmed with emotions." Cherelle Griner said the nine months Griner was detained in Russia were some of the darkest moments of her life, and "I’m just standing here overwhelmed with emotions, but the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration," per Fox. On Whelan, she said, "BG and I will remain committed to the work on getting every American home, including Paul whose family is in our hearts today as we celebrate BG being home."
  • Another imprisoned American. Marc Fogel, a 60-year-old American teacher, has been detained in Russia since August 2021, when he was caught entering the country with around half an ounce of medical marijuana he had been prescribed in the US, the Washington Post reported earlier this year. State Department officials say they are trying to secure his release on humanitarian grounds but unlike in higher-profile cases, they haven't determined that his detention is unjust or politically motivated, reports the Hill.
(More Paul Whelan stories.)

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