Yesterday, the world found out that Brittney Griner has been freed from a prison in Russia. The WNBA star was detained in February for possessing vape canisters with cannabis oil. The Russian government released Griner as part of a one-for-one prisoner swap that involved arms dealer Viktor Bout.
President Joe Biden announced the news of Brittney Griner’s release at the White House alongside Vice President Kamala Harris. Cherelle Griner thanked the Biden Administration for securing her wife’s release from a Russian female penal colony.
“After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along,” said Biden on Thursday.
While many Americans celebrated Brittney Griner finally returning home to her loved ones, there was still concern about the condition of Paul Whelan. The former Marine is currently imprisoned in Russia on suspicion of being involved in an intelligence operation.
Russian authorities arrested Paul Whelan at a Moscow hotel in December 2018. He was convicted of espionage in June 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Both Whelan and the United States government deny his involvement in intelligence gathering.
“This was not a choice of which American to bring home,” stated Biden. “Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”
CNN spoke to Paul Whelan following the announcement that Russia released Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout. According to the outlet, Whelan expressed happiness for Griner but also frustration that he is still detained.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up,” said Paul Whelan in a phone call from Russia.
The U.S./Irish/British/Canadian citizen added, “I would say that if a message could go to President Biden, that this is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly… My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home.”
In addition, the sibling of Paul Whelan has commented on Brittney Griner’s release. Paul’s brother, David Whelan, confirmed receiving an early warning about the prisoner exchange which allowed the family to mentally prepare for the news.
“It is so important to me that it is clear that we do not begrudge [Ms. Griner’s] freedom,” said David Whelan. “As I have often remarked, Brittney’s and Paul’s cases were never really intertwined. It has always been a strong possibility that one might be freed without the other.”
Cherelle Griner spoke about Paul Whelan during her remarks at the White House. She stated, “But as you all are aware, there are so many other families who are not whole. [Brittney Griner] is not here to say this, but I will gladly speak on her behalf. BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today.”