Detained U.S. Marine Paul Whelan said Thursday he is “disappointed” the Biden administration wasn’t more aggressive in trying to secure his release from Russia as it pushed to free WNBA star Brittney Griner.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Mr. Whelan said in a phone interview with CNN. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Mr. Whelan told CNN he was surprised that he was not included in the deal for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, a swap that secured Ms. Griner’s freedom.
He said he was “led to believe that things were moving in the right direction and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon.”
Emphasizing that he was happy that Ms. Griner was released, Mr. Whelan also noted that he has 12 years remaining on his prison sentence.
Mr. Whelan has been in Russian custody since 2018, when he was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges. The U.S. government and Mr. Whelan’s family say those charges were manufactured.
SEE ALSO: Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout: WNBA star freed in U.S.-Russia prisoner swap
Mr. Whelan’s family has pushed the Biden administration to be more aggressive about securing his release. His fate had become linked to Ms. Griner, a basketball superstar who was arrested for bringing vape cartridges containing cannabis oils, as advocates sought freedom for both.
Critics have slammed the Biden administration for not including Mr. Whelan in the Griner deal.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican, also lambasted the Biden administration, saying it was looking to score political points by focusing attention on the more high-profile prisoner.
“So a basketball star is released, we can celebrate, but what about Paul Whelan? An American unjustly detained for years. Might not be high profile but he is innocent. This is a dangerous road,” Mr. Kinzinger posted on Twitter.
“Surely an arms dealer is worth two innocent people,” he wrote.
President Biden earlier Thursday acknowledged the Whelan family while announcing the Griner swap. He said the deal was “not a choice of which American to bring home.”
SEE ALSO: ‘Celebrity culture won’: Critics slam Biden for leaving behind Paul Whelan in prisoner swap
“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” Mr. Biden said. “And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”