Former Marine Paul Whelan told a reporter from WTOP on the eve of his fifth Christmas in a Russian prison that he feels as though he has been “left behind,” CBS News reported.
The 53-year-old Whelan was detained by Russian authorities on espionage charges in December 2018 while in Russia for a friend’s wedding. He was convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years hard labor.
Whelan told the reporter that President Biden was the one who made the decision to leave him out of the deal that freed WNBA player Brittney Griner and Marine Corps veteran Trevor Reed. He added that only the president can bring him home.
During a phone interview with the BBC last week, Whelan described his circumstances as a “serious betrayal,” and said that after five years in Russia, it was “unfathomable” to him that the Biden administration continues to leave him behind.
Whelan and the federal government have dismissed the espionage charges against him as “baseless,” and the US considers him to be wrongfully detained.
In his Christmas Eve interview with WTOP, Whelan addressed the president directly, pointing out that he had promised to bring him home but “I’m still here.”
Whelan added that there must be more President Biden could do to ensure his release.
The former Marine is being held in a penal colony in Mordovia, a remote Russian province 350 miles east of Moscow.
In November, a fellow prisoner attacked Whelan, though he was not seriously injured.
In a statement on Monday, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson told CBS News that President Biden has “no higher priority” than securing the release of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad, including Whelan.
Watson said that the administration has continued its “conversations with third-party countries” to “find a way” to secure the release of Paul Whelan as well as Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal who has been held by Russia for nearly nine months.