Russia releases American basketball player Brittney Griner was received with glee in the United States, where the star athlete’s family, friends, teammates and other supporters have waged a months-long campaign to secure a return. hers.
But when US President Joe Biden announced that Griner had been released on Thursday, many also questioned: What about? Paul WhelanFormer US Marine sentenced to 16 years by Russia in 2020 on espionage charges that Washington says is false?
The Biden administration has frequently spoken out together about Griner and Whelan, saying both US citizens were wrongfully detained in Russia.
But the release of Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, in a prisoner exchange with the Russians arms dealer Viktor Boutwho is serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison, effectively separating her fate from Whelan’s.
U.S. officials emphasized two points on Thursday when it came to Whelan’s continued detention: that they did not choose to release Griner at the expense of being a former Marine, and that they would continue. continue to push for his release.
“While we have not yet succeeded in securing [Whelan’s] released, we will not give up. We will never give up,” Biden said. “We remain in close contact with [his] family, Whlan family, and my thoughts and prayers are with them today.”
Biden added that Russia treated Whelan’s case differently for “illegal reasons,” referring to espionage charges against him. Whelan, who is serving a sentence in a Russian penal colony, has vehemently denied the charges.
Whelan expressed disappointment
In July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had made a “Substantial proposal” to Moscow to free both Whelan and Griner. At the time, several American media outlets reported that the US offered to release Bout in exchange for two Americans.
Biden also met with Griner’s and Whelan’s family member at the White House in September to update them on his administration’s efforts to bring the couple back to the United States.
Whelan, who was arrested in Russia in 2018, expressed disappointment on Thursday that he was still imprisoned.
“I am deeply disappointed that I have not done more to secure my release, especially as the 4th anniversary of my arrest approaches. I was arrested for an unprecedented crime,” Whelan told CNN in a phone interview. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
The Griner-Bout deal is the second prisoner exchange between the US and Russia this year.
April, Moscow free Trevor Reedalso a former US Marine, in exchange for the release of Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence in the US for drug charges.
Blinken on Thursday compared the deal to free Reed to the deal to free Griner.
“This is the same situation we faced in April: We brought Trevor Reed home; we want to bring [Griner and Whelan] home at the same time. At the time, we weren’t able to do that,” Pompeo told reporters.
“At this time, we cannot guarantee Paul’s release. But going forward, we remain absolutely determined to do it.”
‘One or not’
Griner, all-star of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was arrested and sentenced nine years in prison after Russian authorities found a vape box containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow airport in February, just days before arriving in Russia Invasion of Ukraine.
From the outset, the Biden administration deemed Griner’s detention unreasonable, and her lawyers said the sentence was too high and disproportionate to the seriousness of the offence.
Thursday’s prisoner exchange prompted some criticism from Republican lawmakers in the United States, including Representative Michael Waltz, who wrote on Twitter: “US Marine Paul Whelan , who has been unjustly detained by Russia for a long time, where is he? Who is more famous than veteran?
Congresswoman Lisa McClain also expressed concern about the release of Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer who was once dubbed the “Merchant of Death”.
“President Biden Just Returned the ‘Trader of Death’ to Russia, while the US Marines Paul Whelan locked in a prison in Russia,” she said in a social media post. “We need justice for [Whelan]. He should also be on that plane to get home.
However, Blinken said on Thursday that Washington had no choice between releasing Griner or Whelan because Moscow was unwilling to release the former marine.
“The choice in this case is one or not because, unfortunately, Russia has continued to see [Whelan’s] the case through the lens of false espionage allegations, and they are treating him differently than they have been treated. Brittney Griner” he say.
Whelan’s family also supported the prisoner exchange, calling it the “right” decision.
“As a family member of a Russian hostage, I can really imagine the joy [Griner] David Whelan, brother of Paul Whelan, said in a statement.
“There is no greater success than the release of a wrongfully detained person and their return home.”
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, also promised to continue pushing for Whelan’s release. “I will remain committed to the work of bringing every American home, including [Whelan]who our family is thinking about today,” she said at the White House on Thursday.