What Paul Whelan’s family said about the Brittney Griner deal

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“The Biden administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home and make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wouldn’t happen.”

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine who was arrested for alleged espionage, listens to the verdict in a Moscow City Court courtroom in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020. Sofia Sandurskaya/Moscow News Agency photo via AP, File

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The family of an American imprisoned in Russia for nearly four years said on Thursday the Biden administration “made the right decision” in agreeing to a prisoner exchange that freed WNBA star Brittney Griner, but they are “devastated” of” that Paul Whelan is left behind.

“As a relative of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, 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 an unjust detainee to be released and to go home. The Biden administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home and make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wouldn’t happen.

Whelan is a Michigan-based corporate security executive who has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government believe are unfounded.

“We haven’t forgotten about Paul Whelan,” President Joe Biden said when the White House announced the deal for Griner’s release. “We will continue to negotiate in good faith for Paul’s release.”

David Whelan said the family had been warned ahead of the news, a decision he says softened the blow as he knew his brother would remain imprisoned in Russia. Pressure to include Whelan in a trade for Griner mounted after April’s 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, remain devastated and fear for Paul Whelan’s health and ability to carry on.

“How do you survive day in and day out when you know that your government has failed twice to free you from a foreign prison?” said David Whelan. “I can’t imagine he retains any hope that any government will negotiate his freedom at this time. It is clear that the US government is not making any concessions that the Russian government will make for Paul Whelan. And so Paul will remain a prisoner until that changes.”

David Whelan said family members had not spoken to Paul Whelan since learning of the deal to secure Griner’s release, and it is not clear if his brother is aware of this.

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