Biden says the US hasn't 'forgotten' about the imprisoned American Paul Whelan after securing Brittney Griner's release

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  • President Joe Biden said Paul Whelan, who's been held in Russia for years, hasn't been "forgotten."

  • Biden spoke after the US secured the release of the WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison.

  • Griner had been in Russian custody since February 17. Whelan has been detained since 2018.

President Joe Biden said on Thursday that Paul Whelan — the US Marine veteran who has been detained in Russia for four years — hasn't been "forgotten" after his administration secured the WNBA star Brittney Griner's release from a Russian prison.

"We never forgot about Brittney, and we've not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years," Biden said from the White House on Thursday morning alongside Griner's wife, Cherelle; Vice President Kamala Harris; and other administration officials.

"This was not a choice of which American to bring home," Biden added.

"We brought home Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year," he said. "Sadly for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's, and while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul's release we are not giving up." He then vowed, "We will never give up."

The Kremlin agreed to a prisoner swap with the US, exchanging Griner for the release of the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The Biden administration and the Kremlin were said to have been in talks earlier this year about swapping both Griner and Whelan for Bout.

Griner, who had been in Russian custody since February 17, was convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. She was on a plane headed to the US on Thursday.

Whelan has been detained in Russia on espionage charges since 2018 and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Biden acknowledged that Whelan's family had to have "such mixed emotions today" and said his "thoughts and prayers are with them."

He added a "guarantee" that the US would continue to negotiate for Whelan's release in good faith.

Whelan's family said on Thursday that they were glad Griner was freed but were "devastated" that Whelan remained in custody, CNN reported.

"I can't even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly four years of this injustice," said Whelan's brother, David Whelan, according to the news outlet.

David Whelan continued: "His hopes had soared with the knowledge that the US government was taking concrete steps for once towards his release. He'd been worrying about where he'd live when he got back to the US."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement: "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," he said. "I wholeheartedly wish we could have brought Paul home today on the same plane with Brittney."

Blinken went on to say the US "will not relent in our efforts to bring Paul and all other US nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad home to their loved ones where they belong."

Read the original article on Insider