Former American Navy Sailor Appears in Video for the First Time in Three Years from His Russian Prison


In a video that surfaced recently, Paul Whelan, a former American soldier, was seen for the first time in three years since his imprisonment in Russia. Whelan, who had referred to himself as a "political hostage," was captured on camera in footage released by the Kremlin-supported RT channel.

Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in Moscow in 2018 while attending a friend's wedding. He was subsequently sentenced to 16 years in prison after a closed trial. The U.S. government categorizes Whelan as an "unlawful detainee."

The video was filmed inside a prison camp by RT channel and shows Whelan alongside other prisoners in the prison yard, engaged in clothing manufacturing within the prison factory. He also appears in the cafeteria holding some food.

Although he seems composed and even smiles in the video, Whelan clearly refuses to answer any questions posed by the camera crew. He had informed his family in the United States and Canada that he was "forced" to participate in Kremlin propaganda.

For his family in the U.S. and Canada, this marked the first time they had seen him since June 2020 when the BBC filmed his last court appearance in Moscow. David Whelan, Paul's twin brother, expressed his relief at seeing him again and noted that he could still see the fight in his eyes.

In the video, Whelan is portrayed as one of the prisoners at "IK-17," a remote camp in the Republic of Mordovia. This comes shortly after the arrest of American journalist Ivan Gershkovitch, leading to the rapid exodus of most foreign correspondents from Russia.

Russia accused the Wall Street Journal journalist of espionage without presenting any evidence, and the United States government also classified him as an "unjustly detained" individual. High-ranking officials have repeatedly called for the release of both men.

Since his arrest, Paul Whelan believed he would be exchanged for a prominent Russian convict in the United States. In telephone conversations from prison in 2020 and 2021, he explained that this was the reason he never appealed his conviction. He remained optimistic and convinced that he would eventually be released.

However, since then, Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine infantryman, and American basketball player Brittany Green were arrested in Russia, convicted, and then released as part of a prisoner exchange. This included notorious Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, who was released by the United States.

The RT video suggests that the Russian government may be using Whelan as a political tool. The delayed release of the video, three months after filming, could be seen as Kremlin pressure on the U.S. government to make concessions.

Now in his fifth year of imprisonment, Paul Whelan discusses feeling abandoned. When journalist Ivan Gershkovitch was arrested on the same espionage charges, Whelan's family felt he was being overlooked once again.

Recent speculation suggests that the Kremlin is seeking the return of secret agents known as "unlawful migrants" who were captured in the U.S. and Europe, or Russian nationals convicted of cybercrimes.

David Whelan, speaking to the BBC, believes that the U.S. government is moving slowly but is unsure of the best course of action. He adds, "Unfortunately, it's not clear what the U.S. government is waiting for... finding a privilege, making a decision to use that privilege, and Paul waiting for them to do something at a labor camp does not help."

In July, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that his government is prepared to "do anything" to bring the men back home, but as of now, there is "no clear path to a resolution."

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