Marine veteran Paul Whelan hopeful of release from Russian jail

Marine veteran Paul Whelan hopeful of release from Russian jail
A mural honoring 18 wrongfully detained Americans is unveiled in Washington DC on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, including Paul Whelan, second from left, who has been detained in Russia since 2018. Photo credit Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

U.s. Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan, an American who is being unlawfully detained in Russia, told CNN earlier this week that he feels confident his case is a priority for the United States government but wishes it could be resolved faster.

“I remain positive and confident on a daily basis that the wheels are turning. I just wish they would turn a little bit more quickly,” said Whelan, who called CNN from his prison camp in remote Mordovia on May 21.

Whelan, who holds American, Irish, British and Canadian citizenship, was detained by Russian authorities at a Moscow hotel in December 2018. Russia said that Whelan was involved in an intelligence operation. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison on an espionage charge he and his family vehemently denies.

Whelan told the outlet that he is concerned he could be left behind again, especially after the Russians wrongfully detained U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich of the Wall Street Journal.

“That’s an extreme worry for me and my family,” he admitted to CNN.

The U.S. was unable to secure Whelan’s release in prisoner swaps that brought home two other wrongfully detained Americans last year: Trevor Reed in April and Brittney Griner in December.

However, Whelan said Sunday he has more confidence in American efforts to get him home than he did when he spoke to CNN in December following Griner’s release.

“I have been told that I won’t be left behind, and I have been told that although Evan’s case is a priority, mine is also a priority, and people are cognizant of the fact that this is having an extremely negative impact on me and my family. And I’m told that the government is working tirelessly to get me out of here and to get me home so they can then focus effort on Evan and his case,” Whelan said.

According to CNN,  Whelan is basing his renewed confidence on public messages he has been able to see from President Joe Biden and from his sister Elizabeth Whelan’s presence at a United Nations Security Council meeting chaired by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“There will be an end to this, and I hope it’s coming sooner than later, but it is depressing on a daily basis going through this,” Whelan added, telling CNN he has “the usual aches and pains of forced labor … and poor living conditions.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has publicly said that the U.S. has put forward a “serious proposal” to secure Whelan’s release, and the State Department has said it has “no higher priority” than securing Whelan and Gershkovich’s release.

During his interview with CNN, Whelan urged Russian officials “to sit down with the U.S. side work this out quickly and get it resolved” while urging Biden to continue the efforts to bring him home.

“Mr. President, I’ve been held hostage for more than 52 months, and the only crime I have committed in Russia is that of being an American citizen. Freedom is not free, it comes at a price. But the loss of freedom is even more costly, and I pay that cost every day Russia holds me. Please follow through with your promises and commitments, truly make my life a priority, and get me home. Thank you very much,” Whelan said.

Whelan described conditions at his prison camp as poor but better than other camps in Russia. He told CNN that prisoners from the camp have been recruited to fight in the war in Ukraine and that Russian state media has attempted to interview him for propaganda purposes.

Whelan’s brother, David, said that he was “really pleased to hear the positivity” in his brother’s voice Sunday.

“I think we are worried about his mental health and his morale and his ability to keep going day to day until something is resolved, so all of that sounded very positive,” he told CNN’s Jim Acosta.

David Whealen called on the administration not to “waste any more time” in its efforts to secure his brother’s release.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY