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WNBA star, Brittney Griner, was released from a Russian penal colony last week in exchange for a Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence in a U.S. prison.
Former Marine, Paul Whelan, was left out of the deal. Whelan served in the Marine Corp. for 14 years.
Whelan was arrested in Russia on December 28, 2018, by the Russian Federal Security Service under the claim that Whelan met with a Russian citizen and received classified material on a USB drive.
Whelan was in the Moscow area while attending a friend’s wedding and was planning to return home in early January 2019.
The grounds for the arrest remain suspect. Both Whelan and the U.S. deny the charges but the former Marine was convicted of espionage and spying for the U.S. government and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
While not hiding their disappointment and criticism of the Biden administration for leaving Whelan behind, his family congratulated Griner on her freedom.
Whelan’s brother David issued a statement. He said, “She will be reunited with her family. Brittney is free. And Paul is still a hostage. But how many more times do I need to write that?”
Whelan was left behind in April when another prisoner exchange took place.
“Despite the possibility that there might be an exchange without Paul, our family is still devastated. I can’t even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly 4 years of this injustice.”
From a Russian prison, Paul Whelan spoke to CNN. He expressed his disappointment.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release,” Whelan said. “Especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up.”
“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” he continued. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
“They’ve put me at a level higher than what they did with Trevor (Reed) and Brittney,” he explained.
“That raises a lot of concerns because none of it is true. And they’re trying to get out of United States, what the United States may not be able to provide, but this is basically political extortion.”
“They’ve always considered me to be at a higher level than other criminals of my sort and for whatever reason, I’m treated differently than another individual here from a Western country that’s also on a charge of espionage. So even though we’re both here for espionage, I’m treated much differently than he is, and my treatment is also much different than others held for espionage at other prisons.”
When talking about the Russian terrorist the U.S. traded for Griner, former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Rebekah Koffler explained, “Moscow wants him back because he possesses critical insights that he can share with the GRU, his former agency.”
“Having been in a U.S. prison and interrogated by U.S. officials, he knows what our intelligence requirements are and other information that is valuable for the Russians,” Koffler said.
“It would be a big mistake for the U.S. to give up Viktor Bout, as much as one feels compassion for Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan,” he added.
Mistake or not, Biden went ahead and traded him for a basketball player who was guilty of committing a crime while a man who served our country rots in prison.