Paul Whelan: US ex-marine seen in Russian labour camp video
Paul Whelan, an American who was convicted of espionage in Russia and has consistently identified himself as a political hostage, has appeared in video footage after an absence of three years.
In 2018, Whelan was apprehended in Moscow during his visit to a friend’s wedding. Following a trial conducted behind closed doors, the former US Marine was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The US government categorizes Mr. Whelan’s detention as an unjust act.
The video was recorded within a labor camp and disseminated by the Kremlin-affiliated channel RT.
Nonetheless, Mr. Whelan declined to grant an interview.
For his relatives in the United States and Canada, this marks the initial sighting of him since June 2020, when he was last seen during a court session in Moscow that was documented by the BBC.
“It was reassuring to lay eyes on him once more and observe his unwavering determination in his gaze. It’s comforting to recognize that Paul remains resilient,” remarked David Whelan, Paul’s twin, in an email.
Within the video, Mr. Whelan is observed queuing alongside fellow inmates within the prison yard, sewing industrial garments in the prison’s factory, and subsequently in the cafeteria holding a tray of food with a dull appearance.
He had earlier informed his parents that he was coerced into participating in “Kremlin propaganda”. Although he appears at ease and even offers a smile in the video, he explicitly informs the camera crew that he will not respond to any inquiries.
The video was filmed in May but has just recently been unveiled.
At that time, he disclosed that prison personnel penalized him for rejecting the interview request and mishandling his belongings by throwing them on the ground and trampling on them.
The RT team visited the remote IK-17 camp in the Mordovia republic shortly after the arrest of US journalist Evan Gershkovich at the close of March. This event prompted the majority of foreign reporters to swiftly depart from Russia.
Without producing any evidence, Russia accused the Wall Street Journal correspondent of espionage. The US government quickly designated him, too, as “wrongfully detained”.
Senior officials have called repeatedly for both men to be released.
From the moment of his arrest, Paul Whelan believed he would soon be swapped for a high-profile Russian convict in the US.
In calls to me from prison in 2020 and 2021, he explained that was why he never appealed against the guilty verdict. He was always upbeat, convinced he would be freed quickly.
But since then, former US Marine Trevor Reed and US basketball player Brittney Griner have been arrested in Russia, convicted, and then released in prisoner swaps.
One of those set free by the US was notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The RT video hammers home the idea that Paul Whelan has been “thrown under the bus” by his government. The report’s release, after three months, looks like Kremlin pressure on the US government to make whatever concessions Russia is seeking.
Now in his fifth year as a prisoner, Paul Whelan has talked of feeling abandoned.
When Evan Gershkovich was arrested, on the same charge of spying, the Whelan family felt that Paul was “rattled like never before”, afraid he’d be overlooked again.
Recent speculation has suggested that the Kremlin is demanding the return of undercover agents, known as “illegals”, arrested in the US and Europe, or Russians convicted of cybercrimes.
The US and Kremlin confirm only that they are in touch.
David Whelan told the BBC he thought the US government was moving slowly, still unsure how best to respond.
“Unfortunately, it’s not clear what the US government is waiting for – finding a concession, deciding to use a concession – nor does it help Paul that he has to wait for their action in a labor camp.”
In July, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said his government was prepared to “do anything” to get the two men home, but that there was, as yet, no “clear pathway to a resolution”.