Brittney Griner’s Release Puts a Spotlight on Paul Whelan

The release on Thursday of Brittney Griner, the American basketball star imprisoned in Russia, also puts a spotlight on Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in the country, and President Biden said that the administration was continuing to work for his release.

Officials said that Ms. Griner had been released after Mr. Biden agreed to a swap for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” who was in prison in the United States.

The Biden administration considers Mr. Whelan tantamount to a political hostage, a view that it also held of Ms. Griner.

“We have not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “We’ll keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release. I guarantee that. I say that to the family.”

Mr. Whelan, a former Marine who became a corporate security executive, was arrested at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and accused of spying. He was convicted in June 2020 on espionage charges that the U.S. government says were manufactured.

On Thursday, Mr. Whelan said that he was “greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release.” Speaking to CNN by phone from the remote Russian penal colony where he is being held, he added that while he was pleased that Ms. Griner had been freed, “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”

Consular officials with the American Embassy in Moscow spoke to Mr. Whelan last week, according to the State Department spokesman, Ned Price. Mr. Price said that securing the release of the two Americans was “something that we have been constantly working on through every available channel.”

Mr. Price said Mr. Whelan had told consular officials with the American Embassy in Moscow that he had been transferred to a prison hospital on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, but had been returned on Friday to the penal colony where he is serving his sentence.

“There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home,” Mr. Whelan’s brother David wrote in an email to The New York Times. “The Biden administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

The tensions between Washington and Moscow over the war in Ukraine have complicated efforts to secure his release.


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