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Jailed American spy issues desperate appeal to Washington

Paul Whelan has told CNN that the US government must take “decisive action” to secure his release from a Russian prison

Paul Whelan, an American arrested on espionage charges in Moscow nearly six years ago, has called for the US government to take whatever steps are necessary – such as incarcerating Russian citizens at Guantanamo Bay – to secure his release from prison.

Speaking on Friday in a telephone interview with CNN, Whelan suggested that the administration of US President Joe Biden hasn’t worked aggressively enough to free him and another alleged American spy, Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich. Whelan was convicted of espionage and sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.

“There should be decisive action taken,” the 54-year-old Whelan said. “The US needs to go out and do something – fill up Guantanamo Bay with Russian officials, arrest Russian spies. Do something that makes the Kremlin sit up and take notice and say, ‘Okay, yeah, right, now it’s time that we’re gonna get Evan and Paul back, and then we want back what you’ve got of ours, and we’ll call it a day.’”

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Whelan, a former US Marine Corps sergeant, was working as a security executive for a Michigan-based manufacturer at the time of his arrest. He was detained after receiving a flash drive that contained classified documents from an undercover officer with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The US State Department has claimed that he was wrongfully arrested, and Whelan has argued that he was framed by his friend in the FSB.

Washington has tried for years to negotiate Whelan’s release, but he wasn’t included in prisoner swaps that freed another former US Marine, Trevor Reed, and women’s basketball star Brittney Griner. He has previously accused Biden of relying on “passive political niceties,” rather than taking such steps as seizing Russian assets or revoking the visas of Russian citizens to gain more negotiating leverage.

“Until decisive action is taken, until there’s a strong response to this sort of behavior, they’ll keep grabbing people like Trevor and Brittney and Evan and others,” Whelan said.

READ MORE: Convicted US spy attacked in Russian prison

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the Biden administration will continue to work every day to free Whelan and Gershkovich. “We put a substantial offer on the table to secure the release of Evan and Paul Whelan some months ago,” Miller said earlier this month at a press briefing.

Noting that Whelan had been behind bars in Russia for over 2,000 days, a State Department official told CNN that “our hearts go out to Paul and his family, who feel the pain of separation in a way that very few people have experienced.”

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Whelan, who was reportedly discharged from the Marine Corps in 2008 after being court-martialed for larceny and other misconduct, is incarcerated at a penal colony in Mordovia, where he works in a garment factory. “It’s the worst environment you can imagine,” he said, complaining of “horrible food” and a lack of medical and dental care.


June 24, 2024 at 03:09AM

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