‘I Won’t Be Left Behind’: Former Marine Paul Whelan Hopeful to Return Home From Russian Prison

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
May 23, 2023World News
‘I Won’t Be Left Behind’: Former Marine Paul Whelan Hopeful to Return Home From Russian Prison
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine accused of spying and arrested in Russia, stands inside a defendants’ cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on Aug. 23, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine convicted in Russia on espionage charges, appeared optimistic about his return to the United States during a Sunday telephone interview with CNN.

Calling from a prison camp in Mordovia, Whelan said: “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.”

The prisoner swaps that brought home two detained Americans last year, Trevor Reed, another former Marine, in April and WNBA player Brittney Griner in December, have given Whelan new confidence despite previous failed attempts to bring him home.

“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,” Whelan said, referring to recently detained U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich.

“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 added.

“I feel that my life shouldn’t be considered less valuable or important than others who have been previously traded. And I think there are people in D.C. that feel the same way, and they’re moving towards a compromise and resolution to this as quickly as they can,” he said.

“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 as he complained about the daily pains of forced labor and poor living conditions in the Russian prison camp.

Remarks by Joe Biden

Whelan attributed his renewed confidence in part to “very, very encouraging” signs from the Biden administration, specifically President Joe Biden’s remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where he said that he and his administration will not stop fighting for Whelan “until we get him home.”

Whelan also told CCN he was allowed to watch his sister Elizabeth speak at a United Nations Security Council meeting presided by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Other prisoners saw the broadcast with him, Whelan said. “It was funny because we stood here in the prison watching the TV and watching my sister speak at the U.N., and everyone was mesmerized that this sort of thing could happen.”

“The public displays and events such as the press corps dinner and the U.N. visit demonstrate to not just me, privately, but to the world that our leaders are impacted by this, and they do want me back, and they are working to try to get me home,” Whelan said, calling the prison broadcast “unprecedented.”

Whelan believes the Russians allowed these broadcasts because they try to frame them as “the Americans begging for one of their people back.”

Whelan—who has U.S., Irish, British, and Canadian citizenship—was arrested in a Moscow hotel in December 2018 after reportedly receiving a thumb drive that, according to Russian media, contained a list of employees at a secret Russian state agency.

Whelan’s lawyers claimed their client was framed as he was under the assumption that the drive contained holiday photos.

A Russian court sentenced Whelan to 16 years in prison in 2020.