“They left me,” says American Paul Whelan after a failed attempt to break free from a Russian prison

Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for five years on espionage charges that he and the US government dismissed as baseless, said it was “incomprehensible” that the Biden administration “abandoned me” while other Americans were freed. Transfer of prisoners. Whelan told CBS News’ partner network BBC News in a telephone interview from prison that he feared being exempt from any prisoner swap with Russia.

“A serious betrayal. It’s very frustrating,” he said told the BBC. “I know America has come up with all kinds of plans — serious proposals. But this is not what the Russians are after. So they go back and forth. The only problem is, when they do this, my life is wasted. .”

“It’s been five years. It’s beyond me that they’ve left me,” said Whelan, who is a citizen of England, Ireland and Canada.

Paul Whelan was seen refusing to answer questions on August 28, 2023 in a Russian state media video.

Russian state media

Earlier this month, the US State Department said Russia Rejected the “new and significant” proposal along with a Wall Street Journal reporter to secure Whelan’s release Ivan GershkovichHe was arrested on unfounded espionage charges during a reporting trip to Russia in March.

Gershkovich is still awaiting trial, but Whelan, who was arrested on similar charges while attending a friend’s wedding in 2018, was sentenced to 16 years in prison. In prison In 2020. He and his family vehemently deny all the allegations against him, saying he is being used as a political pawn by Russia.

The US government has classified both as wrongfully detained by Russia.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urged the families of Americans detained or held hostage not to give up hope. He specifically addressed the Gershkovich and Whelan cases during a news conference Wednesday.

“All I can say is this: We’re working on it very actively and we’re leaving no stone unturned to see if we can’t find the right way to get them home and get them home quickly,” Blinken told reporters.

Blinken said their release was “very focused on our actions and activities,” but he could not provide details on the efforts.

Speaking at the State Department’s regular press conference on Tuesday, spokesman Matthew Miller reiterated that Russia had rejected “significant proposals” for the release of the two men, including one a few weeks ago. We will continue to look for ways to engage with the Russian government to bring them home.

Ivan Gershkovich, left, and Paul Whelan are currently being held in Russia on espionage charges that the United States says are unfounded.

The Wall Street Journal; Sofia Santurskaya/AP

Miller would not elaborate when asked what Russia had demanded in exchange for the men’s release while rejecting recent U.S. offers.

According to CBS DetroitWhelan’s brother, David, said in an email earlier this month that the White House said Paul’s family was a priority, but he wasn’t sure what that meant.

“It took nearly twelve months for the United States to gather its resources and make a separate offer for Paul’s freedom,” David Whelan said in an email. “Offer declined. And we’re back to square one, no further forward than we were back on December 28, 2018. If there are any gems, it’s time to find them.”

“Now would be a great time for the White House,” said David Whelan, who called President Biden to meet with his family, “which will go a long way. Reassure us that the president will keep his promise to Paul and not miss an opportunity to bring Paul into our family.”

The US has negotiated prisoner swaps with Russia in the past, including the high-profile 2022 deal that saw the basketball star. Brittney Griner was acquitted by Moscow in exchange for the release of the long-imprisoned US Arms dealer Victor BottHis illegal activities earned him the nickname “Merchant of Death”.

Whelan told the BBC that conditions at the prison camp where he was held had “deteriorated drastically”, citing dampness and black mold in particular, and that he was worried he would again be excluded from any new prisoner transfers agreed by Washington and Moscow.

“I’m worried there might be a deal that leaves me out,” he said in a phone interview. “In every case, my case goes to the back of the line — is left in the dust.”

—Alex Sundby contributed reporting.

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