Paul Whelan Shares 'Extreme Worry' He Could Be Left Behind Again

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine wrongfully detained by Russia since 2018, on Sunday said he and his family share “an extreme worry” that he could be left behind again with the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, but said he’s confident the U.S. government is working hard for his release.

“That’s an extreme worry for me and my family,” Whelan told CNN in a phone interview from prison.

Whelan, who the Russians refused to include in prisoner swaps that freed former Marine Trevor Reed and WNBA star Brittney Griner last year, said he has received assurances that the Biden administration wants to get him home “so they can then focus effort on Evan and his case.”

Gershkovich, also designated by the U.S. as wrongfully detained, was arrested in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in March. He’s the first American journalist to face espionage charges since the Cold War. The U.S. government, the Journal and Gershkovich have all denied Russia’s allegations.

“I have been told that I won’t be left behind, and I have been told that although Evan’s case is a priority, mine is also a priority, and people are cognizant of the fact that this is having an extremely negative impact on me and my family,” Whelan said.

Whelan was arrested at a Moscow hotel in 2018 on espionage charges and is serving a 16-year prison sentence.

“I feel that my life shouldn’t be considered less valuable or important than others who have been previously traded,” he added.

The Biden administration secured the release of Reed, who had been detained in Russia since 2019, after agreeing to a prisoner exchange with Moscow in April 2022 for Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko.

The White House also negotiated a prisoner swap to get Griner home in December by handing over convicted international arms dealer Viktor Bout. Griner was held on drug smuggling charges.

Whelan said he is optimistic that progress is being made on his case, even though he would like to see the process move faster.

“I remain positive and confident on a daily basis that the wheels are turning,” Whelan told CNN. He said he was heartened to see President Joe Biden discuss his case during the White House Correspondents Dinner and his sister’s address to the U.N. ahead of a Security Council meeting led by Russian Foreign Secretary Sergey Lavrov.

In March, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he submitted a “serious proposal” to Russia for Whelan’s release. He urged Lavrov to free both Whelan and Gershkovich during a call last month.

Meanwhile, Russia, for the second time, denied a U.S. request for a consular visit for Gershkovich, citing the fact that Russian journalists were denied visas to cover Lavrov’s visit to the U.N. in New York last month, according to the Journal. Russia has so far granted only one consular visit to Gershkovich by U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy.

You can read the full CNN interview here.