A former US Marine imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges has urged President Joe Biden to arrange a prisoner exchange with Russian leader Vladimir Putin when the two meet in Geneva on June 16.
Paul Whelan, a security official in a US auto parts company when he was arrested in a Moscow hotel in December 2018, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.
He told CNN in an interview broadcast Wednesday that he was a victim of hostage diplomacy.
“The abduction of an American citizen cannot stand anywhere in the world,” he told the US news network by telephone from his Russian prison.
“This is not an issue of Russia against me. It’s an issue of Russia against the United States, and the United States needs to answer this hostage diplomacy situation and resolve it as quickly as possible,” he said.
“So I would ask President Biden to aggressively discuss and resolve this issue with his Russian counterparts.”
He said it was “really up to the governments to sort out either an exchange or some sort of resolution. My hope is that it will be quick.”
The interview came two weeks before Biden is to meet for the first time as US president with Putin, amid deeply troubled ties between the two countries.
The White House said they would discuss a range of issues and “seek to restore predictability and stability” to the relationship.
But Whelan’s interview could focus attention on the possibility of a prisoner exchange.
Last year his brother David Whelan said that the family believes Moscow wants to swap Paul for a notorious Russian arms dealer imprisoned by the United States, Viktor Bout, and a contract pilot and alleged drug trafficker also in a US prison, Konstantin Yaroshenko.
David Whelan added that another person Moscow might want back is Bogdana Osipova, who was sentenced to prison in Kansas in 2019 for kidnapping after she sent the children she had with her American ex-husband to Russia.
The United States could also be eyeing the return of another former US Marine, Trevor Reed, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in July 2020 on charges of assaulting a Russian police officer while Reed was drunk.
Whelan told CNN his arrest on spying charges was a setup and that he was jailed in a secret “sham” trial.
He now spends his days sewing clothes in a prison factory where a big worry has been COVID-19.
He told CNN he has had his first of two vaccine shots.
“Getting medical care here is very difficult,” he said.
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