(NewsNation) — The sister of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Russia while traveling as a tourist over three years ago, said she was “crushed” after President Joe Biden’s call to jailed American basketball star Brittney Griner’s wife on Wednesday.
Quote-tweeting a press release from the White House, Elizabeth Whelan urged the president to discuss ways to secure her brother’s release.
“Still looking for that press release saying @POTUS has spoken to anyone in OUR family about #PaulWhelan, wrongfully detained in #Russia for 3.5 years,” she wrote. “I am crushed. If he wants to talk about securing Paul’s release, he needs to be talking to the Whelans! What are we to think?!”
Paul’s twin brother David does not feel a call with Biden is necessary to freeing Paul, but rather would like to see the U.S. explore avenues other than prisoner swaps to bring him back.
“I think that really highlights the problem, they need to consider more things,” David Whelan said on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour.” “They need to look at sanctions they can place on Russians or things the Russians want taken away that the U.S. government can ameliorate some other issue.”
Elizabeth’s tweet follows a call from Biden and Vice Kamala President Harris to Cherelle Griner. The White House said Biden and Harris assured Cherelle Griner that they are providing “all possible assistance” to bring home Brittney Griner, who has been in detention in Russia since February.
Biden’s call to Cherelle Griner came after her she told CBS it was “very disheartening” not to have heard from the president directly. Brittney Griner also wrote a letter to Biden, urging him not to “forget about me and the other American detainees.”
“I don’t begrudge Ms. Griner and her supporters their success in getting the president’s attention while he ignores so many other families,” David, said of Cherelle Griner’s interview, according to The Detroit News.
“It suggests the only way to get the White House’s attention, under President (Donald) Trump or President Biden, is to have celebrity and wealth and resources that most wrongful detainees do not have,” he added.
David Whelan said the family will have to “wait and see,” adding that Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Paul Whelan’s case still remains a priority.
“At some level, we take that at face value,” he said. “Unfortunately, if it unfolds that Ms. Griner is released and Paul isn’t, again, we’ll be faced with the same question we were with the release of Trevor Reed: Is the White House only working on the cases when the president takes the time to call? And how do families explain that to their loved ones?”
Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia for three and a half years, is serving a 16-year sentence of hard labor at a prison camp in Mordovia. He was arrested for alleged spying in Moscow.
Earlier this year, Russia released another prisoner, U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, in a prisoner swap. Prisoner swaps may not bring Paul Whelan or Brittney Griner home however, Whelan’s family fears.
“The question now is what can they do? And the U.S. government hasn’t been able to come up with a concession and I think that will be the challenge, as it is in Brittney’s (Griner) case, ‘what is it that the U.S. can give in order to have these wrongfully detained Americans freed,'” David Whelan said. “Three and half years in the U.S. government hasn’t been able to do that in Paul’s case.”