Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, currently detained in Russia over accusations of espionage, complained on Thursday that “more has not been done” to release him upon news that fellow detainee Brittney Griner was returning home.
“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,” Whelan told CNN from a prison in remote Russia.
“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred. I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here,” he added.
Whelan said that while he is happy for Griner, he was surprised when he found out that he would not be part of the prisoner swap along with the WNBA star.
President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that Griner would be released from captivity after almost 10 months, as part of a U.S. and Russia prisoner swap involving Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Griner was detained in Russia in February after carrying illegal hashish cartridges through airport security and later sentenced to nine years in prison.
The Biden administration had reportedly floated a prisoner exchange in which both Griner and Whelan would be exchanged for Bout, however Russia pushed for a one-to-one swap.
Whelan, who was first jailed in December 2018, said he was “led to believe that things were moving in the right direction, and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon” regarding his release.
However, the former Marine said that his security level is “higher” than that of Griner and former fellow detainee Trevor Reed, who was released in April, because of the seriousness of the espionage charges against him.
Whelan’s attorney Vladimir Zherebenkov told NBC News on Thursday that he is confident an exchange will be made between his client and a Russian prisoner “in the next month or two.”
“The Russian side offered an exchange one-to-one. And the American side then chose to exchange Griner because, firstly, she is a woman, and this is more humane, and secondly, she is an Olympic champion. That is, more significant for them,” said Zherebenkov.
“And Paul is an officer, a soldier, and naturally it is easier for him to be in custody. Apparently, that was the thinking — and therefore the priority was given to Griner.”
Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, released a statement on Thursday echoing his brother’s sentiments of happiness for Griner and “disappointment” for his family.
“It is so important to me that it is clear that we do not begrudge Ms. Griner her freedom,” he said. “It has always been a strong possibility that one might be freed without the other.”