US conversations with Kremlin on Paul Whelan remain ongoing, White House says

Paul Whelan Russia
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, who was arrested in Moscow at the end of last year, attends a hearing in a court in Moscow. (Dmitry Serebryakov/AP)

US conversations with Kremlin on Paul Whelan remain ongoing, White House says

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The Biden administration is continuing conversations with their Russian counterparts regarding former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, deemed by Washington as wrongfully detained.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden made the decision to secure Brittney Griner’s freedom from Russian detention in exchange for a convicted Russian arms dealer, but Whelan, whom the Russians accused of espionage despite his denial of the charges, was not included in the swap.

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“There are active conversations that we continue to have with our Russian interlocutors about trying to secure Paul’s release,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday. “I’m obviously not going to detail the contents of those discussions. Or get too much involved in a play-by-play of that because we want it to succeed. But if you were asking, are we, in fact, still working to secure his release actively with our Russian interlocutors? The answer is yes.”

The administration reiterated their intent on securing his release amid Griner’s return and had said they would continue negotiations for Whelan, who has been in Russian detention for four years. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges he vehemently denies in June 2020.

U.S. officials said the Russians used his espionage charge to treat him differently and that there was no possible deal the Russians would accept at the time they swapped Griner for Viktor Bout that included Whelan.

“It has to do with the nature of the sham charges against him, which were based on espionage. That is the hook that the Russians seem to have on him. And we’re just not able to deal with him the same way that we were able to deal with Mr. [Trevor] Reed or, in this case, with Ms. Griner,” Kirby said at the time, referencing the prisoner swap from last spring that secured fellow former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed’s return to the United States.

The Whelan family celebrated Griner’s return, who was sentenced to a 9-year prison sentence for bringing vape cartridges that contained minimal amounts of marijuana into the country, but lamented their brother being left behind in a second prisoner exchange this year.

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I am so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home,” David Whelan, Paul’s brother, told reporters at the time. “As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays. There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home. 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.”

David also described the swap as a “catastrophe for Paul,” while Paul himself 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.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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