Biden Says Russia Is Treating Paul Whelan Case Differently ‘For Illegal Reasons’: ‘We Will Not Give Up’


President Biden said Thursday that the U.S. is “not giving up” on repatriating former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan after he was left out of the latest Russian prisoner swap that secured the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Biden told reporters that Russia had acted differently in the case of Whelan, who has been in a Russian prison since 2018, “for absolutely illegitimate reasons,” but vowed to continue working to bring the former Marine home.

Whelan was arrested in December 2018 and says he was “set up” after a man he said was a friend gave him a USB flash drive containing vacation photos.

President Biden speaks on the release of Olympian and WNBA player Brittney Griner from a Russian prison on December 8, 2022 at the White House in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Minutes later, Russian officials raided Whelan’s hotel room and later claimed the driver had a list of individuals who worked for a secret security agency.

Whelan was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.

The State Department has denied the allegations against Whelan, saying Russia has not provided any evidence to support its claims.

Reports earlier this year suggested US negotiators were trying to replace Griner and Whelan with Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death” for his involvement in fueling armed conflicts around the world.

But only Griner was released in exchange for Bout.

FILE - Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested on espionage charges, hears his sentencing in the courtroom of the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020.

FILE – Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested on espionage charges, hears his sentencing in the courtroom of the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020.
(Photo by Sofia Sandurskaya, Moscow News Agency via AP, File)

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“This was not a choice about which American to bring home,” Biden told reporters Thursday. “We brought Trevor Reid home when we had the chance at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Britney for completely illegal reasons.”

The ex-marine once described his imprisonment in an interview with the BBC, saying: “Russia says they captured James Bond on a spy mission. In fact, they kidnapped Mr Bee on holiday.”

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from the courtroom in Khimki, near Moscow, August 4, 2022.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from the courtroom in Khimki, near Moscow, August 4, 2022.
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Whelan’s brother, David, has since urged his release, reaching out first to the Trump administration and then to the Biden White House.

“We will never give up,” Biden said Thursday, adding that his administration is in close contact with the Whelan family.

“We will continue to negotiate in good faith for Paul’s release. I guarantee that,” he continued. “I call on Russia to do the same to ensure Paul’s health and humane treatment [is] It will be stored until we bring it home.

“If we can bring this man home, I don’t want any American to spend another day in unjustified detention,” he added.

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