By: Jake Smith, Daily Caller News Foundation
On the fifth anniversary of his imprisonment in Russia, former U.S. marine Paul Whelan said he fears he is being left behind by the Biden administration, according to an interview with WTOP News on Thursday.
Whelan was arrested in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges that both he and the U.S. government have rejected as false and unlawful. Under physical and mental stress, Whelan has become increasingly concerned that the current Biden administration is playing its hand wrong in negotiations with the Kremlin, and said he feared he would be “left behind a third time,” during a phone interview with WTOP News on Thursday.
“The Russians are adamant that they only want to do one-for-one exchanges. And as you know, there are two of us here, Evan and myself,” Whelan told WTOP News. “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 is referring to Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who is currently being held in a Russian prison after being arrested in March on accusations that he committed espionage on behalf of the American government; these charges have been denied by Gershkovich and the U.S. government.
Whelan is also referencing a previous swap deal in 2022 for two American prisoners, WNBA player Brittney Griner and former marine Trevor Reed, who were arrested in Russia after Whelan, but freed before him. Griner was arrested in Russia in 2022 for marijuana possession and Reed was arrested in 2019 for assault against a Russian police officer; both were released in a prisoner swap deal between the Biden administration and the Kremlin, despite Whelan having made “the same request” for his freedom to Biden after he took office that he made to the Trump administration.
Whelan previously told WTOP News that Biden needs to “man up” and quickly secure his release, criticizing the president for not doing more to bring him home.
“The concern that I have is that diplomatic efforts have failed,” Whelan said on Tuesday.
Whelan believes part of the reason he has not been freed is because the Kremlin views him as a valuable bargaining chip they could use in a prisoner swap with the. U.S., according to WTOP News. Whelan said the Kremlin believes in a “false narrative” that he is a high-level U.S. military operative and intelligence agent.
“The Russians decided, well, we’ll work out deals, with these two lower-level cases and we’ll ask for more for Paul,” Whelan told WTOP News. “They saw an avenue for basically cheating the Americans out of two high-value prisoners, trading them for people that have committed low-level street crimes, and they changed the goalposts.”
Whelan now fears that if he is not freed in the next prisoner swap between Russia and the U.S. – which might include just Gershkovich – he may never get an early release from his 16-year prison sentence.
“You just feel like you’re on a planet by yourself,” Whelan told WTOP News.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.