The family of an American detained in Russia for nearly four years said Thursday that the Biden administration “made the right decision” in agreeing to a prisoner exchange that freed WNBA star Brittney Griner but they are “devastated” that Paul Whelan remains behind.
“As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays,” David Whelan, Paul's brother, said in a statement. “There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home. The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”
Whelan is a Michigan corporate security executive who has been jailed in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government has said are baseless.
“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” President Joe Biden said as the White House announced the deal for Griner's release. “We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release.”
David Whelan said the family was warned in advance of the news, a decision he said softened the blow of knowing his brother would remain jailed in Russia. Pressure to include Whelan in any trade for Griner increased after the April trade for Marine veteran Trevor Reed did not include him.
David Whelan added that the family, including Whelan's parents who are in their 80s, remains devastated and fear for Paul Whelan's health and ability to carry on.
“How do you continue to survive, day after day, when you know that your government has failed twice to free you from a foreign prison?” David Whelan said. “I can’t imagine he retains any hope that a government will negotiate his freedom at this point. It’s clear that the US government has no concessions that the Russian government will take for Paul Whelan. And so Paul will remain a prisoner until that changes.”
David Whelan said family members had not yet spoken to Paul Whelan since learning of the deal to secure Griner's release, and it's not clear if his brother knows about it.
Householder reported from Detroit and Foody reported from Chicago.
Mike Householder And Kathleen Foody, The Associated Press