Retired Marine Paul Whelan, who is imprisoned in Russia, said he was "disappointed" to be left out of a prisoner swap between Russia and the U.S. last week that saw WNBA star Brittney Griner exchanged for "Merchant of Death" Viktor Bout.
“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,” Whelan told CNN. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Whelan was accused of being a spy for the U.S. and is being held in a remote penal colony in Russia. He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in 2020.
Griner was arrested 10 months ago for having hashish oil in her vaping supplies at a Russian airport where she was traveling to play basketball overseas. She pleaded guilty to possession and was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony.
“I would say that if a message could go to President Biden, that this is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly,” Whelan continued. “My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me.”
Whelan's brother David Whelan also appeared on CNN to react to his brother's omission from the swap.
“It’s a great day for the families of the wrongfully detained and we feel wonderful for them,” David Whelan said on CNN This Morning about Griner’s release. “But we do worry about what’s in Paul’s future. I think it’s become clear that the US doesn’t have any concessions that the Russian government wants for Paul. So I’m not really sure what the future holds.”
President Joe Biden said that he was still working to effect Whelan's release even after it did not happen at the same time as Griner's.
“We have not forgotten about Paul Whelan. This was not a choice about which American to release. Russia is treating Paul’s case differently,” Biden said in a press conference that celebrated Griner’s release. “We are not giving up.”
Biden expressed that negotiations to get Whelan released were moving in the "right direction" prior to Griner's release, but they ultimately failed.
There is no longer a high profile prisoner from Russia that the U.S. could bargain with to gain Whelan's release, so he may be stuck in Russia for a while longer.
Former President Donald Trump also tried to get Whelan released when he was president, but was not able to accomplish it either.
NPR reported that Whelan, 52, recently spent time in a Russian hospital. His stay was brief and he did speak to his family after leaving the hospital.
His brother had reported in April that his meals were not very nutritious and he did not get adequate medical or other care in the Russian prison. "There is also a lot of corruption and abuse, David Whelan said.
"He is probably as well as you could be in a Russian labor camp," he said at the time. "I think he does his best to stay out of people's way."