Paul Whelan, an American citizen serving a 16-year sentence for espionage in a Russian penal colony, has described his exclusion from prisoner exchanges with Moscow as a “death warrant.” In a telephone interview with CNN from the remote prison camp in Mordovia, Whelan expressed frustration at the slow pace of the State Department’s efforts to secure his release and expressed concern that he might be forgotten due to other geopolitical issues. He also warned Americans against traveling to Russia if they value their freedom.
Whelan’s ordeal began in December 2018 when he was arrested after accepting a flash drive with classified documents from an undercover officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). He was subsequently found guilty by a Moscow court and sentenced to 16 years in a prison colony. The United States has designated his detention as “wrongfully detained,” alleging that the charges against him are politically motivated.
Speaking with CNN, Whelan recounted a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in August, during which he told Blinken that leaving him behind during previous prisoner exchanges had put a target on his back and essentially signed his death warrant. He referred to two recent exchanges between Moscow and Washington, in which convicted drug smuggler Brittney Griner and ex-Marine Trevor Reed were released in exchange for Russian nationals Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, respectively. Whelan criticized the decision to leave him behind and claimed that Russia is seeking something high value in return for his release.
The White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked about leaving Whelan behind, emphasized the importance of Griner as a role model and inspiration to millions of Americans, particularly LGBTQI+ individuals and women of color. This statement implies that Whelan’s release was not prioritized due to the significance of the other exchange participants.
Whelan also expressed disappointment in President Joe Biden’s decision to proceed with the exchanges while leaving him behind. He mentioned that Russia accused the US of “hunting” for Russians to offer in exchange for his release.
Despite the challenging circumstances, Whelan remains hopeful that his ordeal will eventually come to an end. He stated that he is being promised that he won’t be left behind in Russia but acknowledged that he does not know how long it will take for his release to be secured.
In conclusion, Paul Whelan’s exclusion from prisoner exchanges with Moscow has been described by him as a “death warrant.” He expressed frustration with the slow pace of the State Department’s efforts and urged Americans to reconsider traveling to Russia if they cherish their freedom. Whelan criticized the decision to leave him behind in previous exchanges and emphasized that Russia is seeking something of high value in return for his release. Despite the challenges, he remains hopeful that his ordeal will eventually come to an end.