Former American Marine Paul Whelan, convicted of “espionage” in June last year to 16 years in prison in a colony of “severe regime” in the Russian region of Mordovia, he addressed the US President, Joe Biden, requesting that he urge his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to carry out a “prisoner exchange.” Biden and Putin are scheduled to hold their first face-to-face summit in Geneva on June 16.
Whelan has been able to make statements to the television channel CNN from the prison itself in Mordovia, located about 500 kilometers southeast of Moscow, where he is being held. He claims to be a victim of what he defines as “hostage diplomacy.”
He considers himself a “hostage” captured in Russia, not because he was engaged in espionage, something you’ve always denied, but as a possible object of exchange with one of the Russian inmates who are serving sentences in the United States. In particular, the arms dealer, Victor But, “the merchant of death”, or Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted by the US Justice on drug smuggling charges.
“The kidnapping of an American citizen is not acceptable anywhere in the world,” Whelan believes. In his opinion, «it is not with me that Russia has a problem, it is with the United States, and The United States needs to solve this case of hostage diplomacy and solve it as soon as possible (…) so I ask President Biden to actively discuss this and solve it with his Russian interlocutors. “What I hope is that it is fast,” he stressed. His twin brother, David Whelan, believes that there is interest in Moscow in reaching an agreement with Washington that involves the mutual release of prisoners so that But and Yaroshenko can also return home.
Whelan, 51, with American, Canadian, British and Irish nationality, was arrested in Moscow, at the Metropol hotel, on December 28, 2018, according to the Federal Security Service (FSB, former KGB), after receiving a USB device with a agent list of a department of the Russian secret services. The defendant always defended that it was not a list of spies, but photographs of a tourist trip to the town near the Russian capital of Sergeyev Posad, famous for its beautiful Orthodox monastery.
But the Russian Justice maintains that the former marine, who has knowledge of the Russian language, had been in contact with Russian citizens he knew on social networks for years and had been in Russia several times before. According to his brother David, he traveled to Moscow in December 2018 to go to a friend’s wedding. Whelan was born in Ottawa (Canada) and was expelled in 2008 from the US Army for the crime of theft. He served in Iraq. Before his arrest in Russia, he was working as a security director for the American vehicle components company BorgWarner.