The brother of a former Marine currently being held in Russia has urged the US to be ‘more assertive’ after the Biden administration secured a prisoner swap with the Kremlin, swapping WNBA star Brittney Griner for the prolific Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
David Whelan told Fox News on Thursday he was confident the Biden administration had done its best to get the best possible deal to bring Griner back to the United States, but lamented that his brother Paul remains in Russian custody.
When Martha MacCallum, host of “The Story,” asked him if he thought the White House should be more aggressive, Whelan replied that the key word should be “affirmed.”
“I think the US government is a bit behind the rogue nations that are holding Americans hostage. And the Biden administration has done a good job over the last few years trying to get ahead of that curve,” said he declared.
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“And so we need them to take the next step, which is that when they have someone like Paul – who is a wrongful inmate in a country like Russia – they have a plan for how they will get a concession or how they will be prepared to have these negotiations and bring the person home faster than they are currently with someone like Paul who has been there for years.”
Paul Whelan has been detained by the Kremlin since 2018, when he was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage. Griner had been detained since February after authorities discovered vaping cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage.
David Whelan told Fox News that there are many Russian nationals in custody and that the Justice Department has in the past engaged in extraditing Russians from other Western countries.
He pointed to the fact that Bout – nicknamed “the merchant of death” – had been captured in Thailand and brought to the United States, rather than being arrested in the United States.
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“I think the US government can be more proactive in looking at who these people are and taking them into custody, bringing them to justice,” he said. “And of course, stopping before we become our enemy – we don’t want to do what these nations are doing that are taking hostages. But we have to, I think, have a plan for how we’re going to react when an American is taken hostage.”
President Biden has defended the Bout-Griner trade, saying the Kremlin is treating Whelan’s case differently for “illegitimate reasons” and pointed to the return of another former US Marine, Trevor Reed, from Russia earlier this year.
Asked about reports that his brother had been temporarily separated from his family and transferred to a hospital, Whelan said the Wagner Group – a private force of Russian mercenaries with alleged links to President Vladimir Putin – had “recruited” in the prison where Paul was held.
Whelan said he believed Russian authorities did not want the American prisoner to witness the Wagner Group’s reported activities there.
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In the early months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Wagner Group was accused of sending hundreds of mercenaries to Kyiv with the mission of assassinating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Yet, despite his brother still being held by Russian authorities, Paul Whelan still has faith in President Biden.
“I trust the president,” Whelan concluded. “I think Mr. Bout is someone who has spent a lot of time in custody in the United States. He’s older, and that’s really all I know about him.”
If Biden was willing to make the current trade decision based on federal expert advice, “that’s good enough for me,” he added.
Fox News’ Anders Hagstrom contributed to this report.