Griner Release Raises Question: Why Was Ex Marine Paul Whelan Left Behind? Whelan Speaks From Russian Prison

Zinger Key Points
  • Paul Whelan spoke with CNN in an exclusive interview just hours after WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed. He's frustrated.
  • Whelan's brother says the US doesn't have any concessions the Kremlin wants for Paul's prisoner exchange.

Former US Marine Paul Whelan who has been in prison in Russia for over four years and recently in bad health told CNN he was frustrated that more has not been done to secure his release. He spoke with CNN in an exclusive interview just hours after WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed on Thursday. Griner was exchanged for the convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, known as the "Merchant of Death" who is a former K.G.B. officer and personal friend of Vladimir Putin.   

While Whelan said he was happy that Griner was released, he told CNN, “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 a phone call 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.”

Biden, after announcing Griner's release at the White House, vowed the US would “never give up” on Whelan but gave no indication why he was not included in the prisoner swap. US officials however indicated that Russia had refused to negotiate his release.

Whelan was surprised he'd been left behind. “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 said.

Whelan was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 by Russian authorities who alleged he was involved in an intelligence operation. Whelan was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison.

Whelan's brother David told CNN that someone from the White House let him know what was happening with Griner. "It's hard to process this in real time like we had to do last April when Paul was left behind," he said. "We do worry about what's in Paul's future. I think it's clear the US doesn't have any concessions the Russian government wants for Paul...the Kremlin is focused on parity, on getting equal things."

The Biden administration repeatedly made offers, including a visit by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to Moscow, to make Whelan part of the prisoner swap. “It was a choice to get Brittney or nothing,” a US official said, calling it a “difficult decision” for Biden but one he felt he had to make.

Griner, the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist who had been playing for the last seven years on a Russian basketball team, was arrested one week before Russia invaded Ukraine. She was later charged and sentenced to nine years in prison for possessing less than a gram of cannabis oil.

 See CNN's full interview with Paul Whelan here:


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Posted In: CannabisNewsPoliticsMarketsGeneralBrittney GrinercnnKremlinPaul WhelanPutinViktor Bout
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