As this publication reported earlier, American WNBA player Brittney Griner has been exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. However, Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was convicted in a Russian court for “spying” on December 28th, 2018 will not be exchanged.
U.S. President Biden has gotten out in front of the immediate backlash by addressing concerns over the expedited release of Griner, who was arrested in February, but the ongoing incarceration of Whelan since 2018. In a press conference this morning, he said: “this was not a choice of which American to bring home”, and that Russia, “for totally illegitimate reasons” treats Whelan different than Griner.
In the same conference the wife of Brittney Garner told press that she has profound gratitude for the Biden Administration’s work to exchange Brittney Griner, but that she will continue to fight for the release of all Americans imprisoned abroad, especially Whelan.
Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle at the White House expresses “profound gratitude” and notes that she will continue to fight for other Americans detained abroad, like Paul Whelan, to be released as well pic.twitter.com/9nJYgLArhR
— Elizabeth Landers (@ElizLanders) December 8, 2022
US Secretary of State Blinken also made this statement.
However, many news outlets have raised the hypocrisy of such a quick release for Griner for a high profile prisoner such as Bout. The story of Whelan’s arrest is as follows:
“On December 28, 2018, Whelan was arrested in the Moscow area by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which later confirmed his arrest. Whelan’s twin brother David said Whelan arrived in Moscow on December 22 to attend the wedding of a former fellow Marine at the Hotel Metropol Moscow and to assist the groom’s family members on their first visit to Russia, a country he had visited many times.
Per MBK News, an outlet run by Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Whelan had $80,000 in cash “temporarily confiscated” during a customs inspection at Domodedovo Airport. He was formally charged on January 3, 2019.
According to the Russian news agency Rosbalt, Whelan was apprehended in his hotel room at the Metropol while concluding a long outing with a Russian citizen, Ilya Yatsenko, a Major in the FSB, who handed him a USB drive containing “a list of all the employees at a classified security agency”.
Former CIA officers have stated that the CIA would not recruit an officer with Whelan’s military record, nor leave an officer exposed without a diplomatic passport. Whelan was discharged dishonorably after being convicted in a court martial of larceny. They further claim that Whelan’s arrest is connected to tensions between Russia and the United States, including the detention of confessed unregistered foreign agent Maria Butina. On December 20, 2018, when discussing Butina’s arrest, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia “will not arrest innocent people simply to exchange them”.” (wiki)