Paul Whelan’s family want to know why he was left in a Russian prison

The Biden administration has been praised in recent weeks for freeing an American detained in Russia and bringing him home through a prisoner swap. But in releasing Trevor Reed, the government left behind another American imprisoned in Russia for years. Former US Marine Paul Whelan remains behind bars in Russia with no plausible exit plan, his family and lawyers tell The Daily Beast.

While the Whelan family is glad Reed is out of the Kremlin’s clutches, they can’t help but feel left behind and increasingly frustrated with the Biden administration and its process of bringing inmates home.

Whelan’s attorney Vladimir Zherebenkov told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview that he was “ultimately disappointed” to learn it was Reed, and not his client, that the Biden administration wanted to bring home first.

“Paul should have been substituted first. He’s older, he had concussions after the war, he had surgery and, frankly, he suffered a lot more morally than Trevor,” Zherebenkov said of Whelan, who was accused of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison.

In front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC on July 29, 2021.

Jim Watson/Getty

Even now, as talk of Whelan’s possible return home grows louder — perhaps due in part to Reed’s homecoming — his family has encountered roadblocks with the Biden administration, whose behavior has shocked them, David Whelan, Paul Whelan’s twin brother, told The Daily Beast.

In discussions of Reed’s case, the State Department informed Whelan’s family that it expects the family to make more noise if they want their case heard, David Whelan said.

“Representatives from the US State Department called one of our families this week to try and clarify this. They feel we need to do more, ‘make more noise’ or ‘be a squeakier wheel,'” David Whelan told The Daily Beast, counting the number of events, visits to Washington, DC and the public appeals to which the Family brought his brother home.

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Paul Whelan in court on June 15, 2020.

Kirill Kudryavtsev/Getty

His sister Elizabeth has visited Washington more than 20 times to urge his release. The family has conducted 40 media interviews since Reed’s release alone. Over the years, the family has gone to the White House, Capitol Hill, and had the ear of the National Security Council.

But without success.

“It’s a difficult message to hear. The family of a wrongly imprisoned person should not have the burden of convincing US government officials to do something to secure the release of a wrongly imprisoned American citizen,” Whelan said. “What kind of circus does a family need to make more noise, squeak louder, move the immovable levers of government?”

Families of hostages are usually encouraged not to pay undue attention to the case of their loved ones, to avoid them interfering in negotiations or leading the government responsible for their detention to believe they have more leverage.

The State Department declined to comment on her alleged suggestion that the Whelan family make more noise.

“We will not release details of private talks,” a State Department spokesman told The Daily Beast. “We remain in regular contact with the families of the hostages or those unjustly detained; we are grateful for their partnership and feedback; and we continue to work to ensure we communicate and share information in ways that are helpful to our families.”

But it’s not entirely clear to either the family or the public what the State Department’s plan is to bring Whelan home, a dilemma that’s becoming more complex by the day as American interlocutors negotiate over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attacks Detainees must be taken to Ukraine in the ongoing war, which has now been going on for more than 100 days.

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Vladimir Zherebenkov, attorney for Paul Whelan.

Mladen Antonov/Getty

However, a glimmer of hope has appeared in recent days. The State Department is considering conducting another prisoner swap to bring Whelan home, Whelan’s lawyer in Russia told The Daily Beast. This time, the Biden administration is considering swapping him out for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the US in 2012.

According to Zherebenkov, as the negotiations progress, Whelan could finally secure his freedom.

“It’s amazing that now that Russia and the US are practically enemies, the intelligence agencies, the intelligence agency [agencies], and the governments managed to agree on the swap,” Zherebenkov said. “I hope the special military operation will not prevent the next swap of Whelan for Bout.”

The only catch is that the family of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was arrested for transporting cannabis oil in Russia just days before the start of the war in Ukraine, also heard about Griner swapping for Bout, according to ABC News could become.

But with rumours, it’s not clear who has the right information or which family is being carried away.

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Former Soviet military officer and arms trafficking suspect Viktor Bout (C) disembarks the plane after arriving at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York November 16, 2010.

Handouts/Getty

The State Department declined to elaborate.

“We will not comment on speculation,” the State Department spokesman told The Daily Beast. “What we are going to say is that using the practice of wrongful detention as a bargaining chip for concessions poses a threat to the security of everyone traveling, working and living abroad. The United States opposes this practice everywhere.”

The Biden administration considers ensuring the release of both Whelan and Griner an “absolute priority,” the spokesman added.

The plan to swap Whelan for Bout, Zherebenkov stressed, is not final yet.

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Brittney Griner remains incarcerated in Russia.

Barry Gossage/Getty

Bout’s attorney, Steve Zissou, told The Daily Beast he hadn’t heard from the State Department at all of a potential swap — for either Whelan or Griner. “They don’t intervene,” Zissou said of the foreign ministry. “What prevails on the US side is complete radio silence.”

​​Zissou is open to an exchange with Whelan or Griner and said he expects the Russian government to be open as well. “He will be released soon. Even if he’s a villain, it’s time for him to go home,” Zissou told The Daily Beast of Bout, referring to his decade. “If it takes Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, so be it.”

The idea that Bout could be on the table could be complete nonsense, according to Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI).

“In my discussions with Biden administration officials, particularly over the past month, the exchange comes at a high cost. They are extraordinarily complicated. They’re made in secret,” Stevens told The Daily Beast. “So my guess is that if we hear about another deal, it’s probably something the Russians might be cooking up for propaganda purposes.”

Stevens, too, hasn’t heard any great answers as to why Whelan and Reed weren’t both traded at the same time.

“It’s unclear to me why Trevor and Paul weren’t brought back together,” Stevens told The Daily Beast.

The muddled geopolitical situation that negotiators must work through — if an exchange is to occur — is becoming more complicated by the day, Stevens warned.

“Russia and those in charge are very unpredictable, often unpredictable, and certainly do not operate within the framework of normal international agreements,” Stevens said. “We are dealing with an extraordinarily renegade actor.”

However, the latest exchange was not fully transparent, so details may not be known for some time, Zherebenkov hinted.

“Negotiations were secret and quick, everything was decided so quietly and without my involvement,” Zherebenkov said of Reed’s swap.

And details could be kept secret for some time as the United States has been actively trying to get Russia to pull out of its war in Ukraine — and it doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon. US intelligence assessments suggest a stalemate or war of attrition is brewing.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/paul-whelans-family-wants-to-know-why-hes-been-left-behind-in-a-russian-prison?source=articles&via=rss Paul Whelan’s family want to know why he was left in a Russian prison

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