The sister of U.S. Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan, who remains in Russian custody following Brittney Griner’s release, said she still has hope the U.S. government will come through and secure her brother’s freedom.
“I don’t look for apologies, I look for action, and I am willing to be very plain-spoken about that,” Elizabeth Whelan told “CBS Mornings.”
Elizabeth said she spoke with President Biden on Thursday — “a continuation of conversations” she has had with the president and those who work for him. She also said those working to bring her brother home “are going to all lengths to try to make that happen.”
The problem, Elizabeth said, is that the foreign governments who are taking Americans are not doing so because of the specific person. “They’re taking them because they want to get back in some way at the United States,” she said.
“We need to solve this problem, not just for my brother but also for Americans in general who want to travel,” she said. “Hostile, weak, foreign nations taking Americans prisoner and holding them as hostages — this has to stop. And my brother needs to come home.”
Brittney Griner was released from Russian detention Thursday in a one-for-one prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The exchange left Paul Whelan imprisoned after he has spent nearly four years in Russian custody.
Paul Whelan, who once worked as a corporate security contractor, was in Moscow for a friend’s wedding when he was arrested in 2018. He was convicted on espionage charges in 2020 and is serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian penal colony.
Whelan has denied the charges and the U.S. called them false. Elizabeth Whelan called the “story” that led to them a “Russian fairy tale.”
President Biden vowed he will not give up on getting Whelan out. “We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” the president said Thursday, adding “we will never give up” on securing his release.
In an interview with CNN, Paul Whelan said he was “disappointed” that more has not been done. “I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” he said in a phone call Thursday. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
But Elizabeth Whelan said her brother can’t be told “everything that’s going on” to try to free him and understands how it must look to him not having all the information that she does, “and wondering why — Why was I left again? Why did it only work for Brittney?”
“I can’t tell a lot of people everything that’s going on,” Elizabeth said. “It’s really difficult. This is not an easy thing to solve. We have a country, Russia, who is trying purposefully to cause trouble.”
She also said “we are very pleased to see Brittney come home.”
“I’m not going to say there weren’t emotional moments when we first heard the news,” she said. “But I think a certain amount of resolve and determination has taken over.”
“Any wrongfully detained American that comes back from overseas is a win for America,” she added.