WASHINGTON — The White House said Wednesday it has not given up its fight to bring former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan home from Russian custody, as the Biden administration marked the fourth anniversary of his arrest on trumped-up espionage charges.
“Today marks four years since American Paul Whelan was illegally detained in Russia, and as the president and I have said to the Whelan family, we will not stop, we will not give up, and we will not stop until all Americans celebrate Paul’s return.” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made a statement about it.
Whelan, 52, was sentenced to 16 years of hard labor in 2020 after a Russian court convicted him of espionage – a charge both Whelan and the US government continue to deny. According to the White House, Whelan was traveling to Russia for a wedding when he was “wrongfully arrested.”
Earlier this month, the United States secured the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner in exchange for notorious international arms dealer Victor Booth. Griner was released almost 10 months after being arrested on drug charges at a Moscow airport.
The US had tried to bring Whelan home with Griner, but the White House said Russia had insisted on a one-on-one exchange, giving Washington “a choice between bringing home one particular American, Brittney Griner, or not bringing home anyone.” official said.
After the settlement was announced, Whelan’s family issued a statement supporting Griner’s release, saying the decision was “a public disappointment for us and a disaster for Paul.”
On Wednesday, Sullivan accused Russia of using Whelan as a pawn to secure concessions such as the release of other Russian prisoners. The White House said last week it was in “active negotiations” with the Kremlin to secure the release of the Michigan corporate security chief.
“Paul and the Whelan family recently showed the whole country the meaning of the spirit of generosity in celebrating the return of an American brother, while Russia continues to mistreat Paul as a bargaining chip,” Sullivan said.
The Washington Examiner reported Wednesday that Whelan’s brother, David, said in a statement that the anniversary had brought sadness and concern to the family.
“Centers are always tough,” David Whelan said. “Four birthdays, four Christmases and now it’s been 4 years since Paul was wrongfully arrested. I think we have the same concern as every family in this situation, which is that every year it gets harder and harder to bring Paul home.