Detained American Paul Whelan said he is “extremely concerned” he could be left behind in Russia again as the Biden administration tries to make a deal with Moscow for the release of U.S. prisoners.
Whelan, who has been held in Russia since 2018, told WTOP over the Christmas holidays that Moscow is “adamant” on “one-for-one exchanges” in a potential prisoner swap, which he fears will result in the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich while leaving himself in Russia.
“At this point, the five-year mark, I’m extremely concerned about being left behind a third time,” Whelan said. “I’m concerned that the Biden administration will work out a deal for Evan to be returned home, leaving me here a third time.”
Whelan, a former Marine who was a security guard when he was arrested, said Russia has a “false narrative that I’m a brigadier general and a secret agent sent here on a secret mission,” which is complicating his release.
“They want an assassin for me. It’s ridiculous that we’ve gotten to this point in hostage situations,” he said.
The Hill has reached out to the White House National Security Council for comment.
Whelan, who has been sentenced to 16 years on espionage charges that he and the U.S. have denied, was left out of two prison swap deals between Washington and Moscow under the Biden administration.
In April 2022, the U.S. brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed, who was detained in Russia in 2019, for a Russian convicted on drug charges. And later that year, WNBA star Brittney Griner was traded for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Whelan said last week he felt abandoned by the Biden administration, accusing the U.S. of a “serious betrayal” for leaving him behind.
Dave Whelan, the brother of Paul Whelan, acknowledged that “every wrongful detention case happens on its own track and within its own circumstances,” but said his family faced the “demoralizing possibility” that Paul could remain in Russia again.
“There is no accounting for what concession the Russian government wants to extort from the U.S. government for Paul’s freedom,” Dave wrote in an email. “The complication is, of course, that both Paul and Mr. Gershkovich have been charged with the same crime, which is different from what happened with Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner. While each case is handled separately, we may find that overlap having an impact in the future. It’s hard to know.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said this month that Russia is working to find a solution for a prisoner swap for both Whelan and Gershkovich, who was detained over the spring of this year.
But the comments came a couple of weeks after the State Department said Moscow rejected a “significant proposal” to secure the release of both Whelan and Gershkovich.
Whelan, who was assaulted this year by another inmate in a prison camp, told WTOP that the release of Gershkovich without him could “significantly limit” the ability to get him home.
“The longer they are allowed to go on,” he said of prisoner swap discussions, “the more complicated and harder it is for them to be resolved.”
Updated Dec. 28 5:00 p.m. ET.
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