(NewsNation) — Marine veteran Trevor Reed is a free man after three years in Russian custody. News of Reed’s recent exchange for a Russian prisoner raised both hope and frustration for the family of another American being held in Russia: Paul Whelan.
The State Department is seeking the release of Paul Whelan. The 52-year-old is a former U.S. Marine and corporate security executive who was arrested at a Moscow hotel in 2018. Russia insists that Whelan is a spy. Whelan has denied their claims, his family saying he was in Russia for a wedding.
Whelan received a grueling 16-year prison sentence in Russia. His brother, David, is fighting for his release.
David Whelan is calling on the White House to get his brother back home, questioning what progress has been made.
“I think we’re always hopeful that something will happen. The good news really was Brittney Griner’s case and that the State Department, the White House, has designated her as being wrongfully detained. It took just a few months for that to happen. It took years for that to happen in Paul’s case. So it suggests that the State Department, the Special Presidential Envoy for hostage affairs, that they’re moving faster now. And I think that that’s really what’s important,” David Whelan said.
“There’s no question that there are tools available if the U.S. government wants to use them. There are people that the Russian government has asked for, for exchanges, there are other things that the U.S. government might be able to do And it’s a matter of them moving forward quickly and making those decisions and getting these people home.”
David Whelan believes his brother may have been targeted by Russians.
“There are more than 40 American families who have loved ones who are being held around the world. They go to the other country, you don’t know why they’ve been targeted by that country. In Paul’s case, he might have made it more easy. He knew people in Russia, he had friends there. He didn’t speak the language. But he had traveled there before.
“And so I think that that may have created a target for him that might not be the same for someone who goes on like a package tour on a bus or on a cruise, you know, who has very few contacts with the country. But it’s really hard to know, and why they would charge him with spying other than to create an opportunity for them to get a concession from the US government,” Whelan said.
Whelan said while Trevor Reed’s case has given his family some hope, he feels that his brother’s case is at a standstill.
“I think if you think about each of these cases as a train trying to get to a station, some of those trains make it but they’re all running on parallel tracks. And Paul’s case hasn’t gotten to the point where it’s gotten any further. I think Trevor’s case has given us some hope that there is actually diplomatic relationship there that allows for discussions for possible releases, but I don’t think Paul’s any closer than he was before,” Whelan said.
Whelan said to his knowledge, there were not any discussions among his family members with the White House about releasing Paul Whelan at the same time as Trevor Reed’s prisoner swap.
Whelan says he is able to speak with his brother on a regular basis to hear what life is life inside the Russian labor colony where he is being held.