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24 Oct, 2023 22:33

Convicted spy asks US government to swap him for Russian – CNN

Paul Whelan has asked the State Department not to leave him behind again
Convicted spy asks US government to swap him for Russian – CNN

Ex-US Marine Paul Whelan, currently serving a 16-year sentence for espionage in Russia, has told CNN that being twice excluded from prisoner exchanges has been a “death warrant."

The broadcaster published a telephone interview with the convicted spy on Tuesday, but said that Whelan phoned them last Friday from the “remote prison camp” in Mordovia, a Russian republic roughly 300 miles east of Moscow. It was Whelan’s fourth exclusive call with the network since he was sentenced in 2020.

Whelan said he was confident the US State Department was working on his release, but was frustrated at the slow pace and wanted to make sure he didn’t get forgotten due to “other geopolitical issues.”

He also advised Americans not to travel to Russia “if they value their freedom.” 

Whelan was arrested in December 2018, after accepting a flash drive with classified documents from an undercover officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The American, Irish, Canadian and British national was found guilty by a Moscow court and sentenced to 16 years in a prison colony. The US has designated him as “wrongfully detained,” suggesting the charges against him were politically driven.

Speaking with CNN, Whelan recalled a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in August, when he “told him point blank that leaving me here the first time painted a target on my back and leaving me here the second time basically signed a death warrant.”

Moscow and Washington exchanged convicted drug smuggler and professional basketball player Brittney Griner for Russian businessman Viktor Bout last December. Another swap in April saw ex-Marine Trevor Reed set free in exchange for pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.

When asked about leaving Whelan behind in the Griner swap, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that there wasn’t an option, and that Griner was an “important role model, an inspiration to millions of Americans, particularly the LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color.”

In March, when Blinken claimed he had raised the issue of Whelan with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused him of lying.

Whelan told CNN that it was “a mistake” for President Joe Biden to exchange Bout and Yaroshenko while leaving him behind, and that Russia wants “something high value in return” for him. Russia has accused the US of “hunting” for Russians they could offer up for an exchange.

“I think everyone’s trying to do the right thing, and I know that this will come to an end at some point. How long it will take I don’t know. But I’m being promised that I won’t be left behind here,” Whelan said.