Brother of Paul Whelan, Canadian imprisoned in Russia, stresses patience in wake of Griner release


The twin brother of an Ottawa-born man currently detained in Russia says his family is elated that U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner has returned home and they are patiently awaiting the same result.

“Every family of a wrongful detainee feels good for another wrongful detainee coming home, to know they are back with their loved ones,” David Whelan, brother of Paul, told CBC News on Friday. “We hope that it will eventually be our day.”

Paul Whelan — a former U.S. marine who holds Canadian, American, British and Irish citizenship — has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly four years on espionage charges. He calls the charges against him “garbage.”

Griner, meanwhile, is a WNBA player who was imprisoned for nearly 10 months after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil — a move some critics say is political. She was released on Thursday in a high-profile prisoner swap with notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout and arrived back in the U.S. early Friday.

David Whelan says his family was notified by the White House prior to the prisoner swap that Griner would be coming home and Paul would not, which he said allowed them to “process the information in private.”

David Whelan says he hasn’t spoken to his brother Paul in years since he was arrested in Russia on espionage charges. (CBC)

“You have happiness for another family and a sadness for yours,” said Whelan. “And maybe even anger toward the Kremlin [for] continuing to put Paul through this injustice.”

Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the UN and a negotiator who worked on Griner’s release and Paul Whelan’s case, told CBC News on Friday that he anticipated Whelan would be included with Griner in a of two-for-two prisoner exchange but said Russian President Vladimir Putin decided against it at the “last minute.”

He cites worsening relations between the U.S. and Russia as a possible reason for why Whelan was not included in the deal — “I think President Putin didn’t want to give [U.S. President Joe] Biden a victory, the two-for-two” — but notes his release is a “priority” and the Russians are actively negotiating.

“I was sad that Paul Whelan was not part of this,” Richardson said of the swap. “I’ve been, for four years, trying to find formulas to get Paul back but it always seems at the very end there’s a road block.”

WATCH | Griner’s journey from Russia back to the U.S.: 

Brittney Griner’s journey from Russia back to the U.S.

Basketball star Brittney Griner is back in the U.S. after being released from Russia as part of a prisoner exchange. During her return, she crossed paths with arms dealer Viktor Bout, whose release was authorized by U.S. President Joe Biden as part of the deal.

David Whelan says his family doesn’t know much about the details of the negotiations to bring Paul home, but they’re trying to be patient.

“It just takes time. It takes the time it takes,” he said. “We have to be patient while the U.S. government gets its bearings on how to deal with this new issue, [along with] nations like Canada and the U.K. and others … [on] how to deal with this new hostage environment.”

David says he hasn’t spoken with his brother since October 2018, two months before the arrest, and although he knows Paul is healthy via daily calls with their parents, they still worry for his well-being.

“He’s surviving, but surviving isn’t living and he needs to come home.”

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