American Marine Paul Whelan, who was convicted in Russia on charges of espionage in 2018, was not included in the recent prisoner swap that freed American basketball star Brittney Griner, the State Department confirmed on Thursday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement announcing the deal: "While we celebrate Brittney's release, Paul Whelan and his family continue to suffer needlessly. Despite our ceaseless efforts, the Russian Government has not yet been willing to bring a long-overdue end to his wrongful detention.
"I wholeheartedly wish we could have brought Paul home today on the same plane with Brittney. Nevertheless, we will not relent in our efforts to bring Paul and all other U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad home to their loved ones where they belong."
Whelan told CNN that he's "greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred. I don't understand why I'm still sitting here."
He added that although he's pleased Griner was released, he "was led to believe that things were moving in the right direction and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon."
Whelan's brother, David Whelan, said in a statement that he can "literally only imagine the joy [Griner] will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays."
He said that U.S. officials warned the family ahead of the announcement that Whelan would not be included in the swap agreement.
"That early warning meant that our family has been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us. And a catastrophe for Paul," David Whelan said. "I do not know if he is aware yet, although he will surely learn from Russian media."
Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., criticized the agreement, saying in a tweet: "Where is U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly held by Russia for far longer? Celebrities over veterans?"
He added, "This is absolutely shameful. The Whelan family has waited years for Paul's return and the Biden Administration is giving priority to a celebrity over a veteran."
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