Paul has been wrongfully detained in Russia for 1,313 days [8/2/2022]. We focus, as he does, on the day that is in front of us and try not to look too far ahead. A 16-year sentence is a long time.
We are cautiously hopeful that the "substantial proposal" made in June 2022 by the U.S. government to the Russian government may shorten that sentence. Already we are seeing that it is nowhere near a certainty. Whether through Russia's bad faith or the U.S.'s bad hand, Paul may be left behind again.
There have been reports that the Russian government is concerned about the reciprocity of the offer. This might mean that they seek an additional concession from the U.S. government. Or it might mean they are willing to relinquish one fewer concession themselves.
[Bloomberg, 8/1/2022: Russia Wants Two Prisoners in Swap for Americans Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan ]
In Russian media, there have now been "high-ranking informed sources" discounting any concession that includes Paul. The First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma and so-called "human rights activist", Ivan Melnikov, explained in a communication to Secretary of State Blinken that Paul should continue to suffer human rights abuses for the foreseeable future.
[Izvestia, 8/2/2022: "Russia does not see the possibility of exchanging Paul Whelan for Booth, since the American's article is "heavy"]
[Interfax, 8/2/2022: I believe that a gradual exchange can be more effective, and you can offer to change Mr. Whelan in the future, since a large number of Russian citizens are held in American prisons," Melnikov said ]
At the same time, Secretary Blinken's public statement has caused two additional outcomes. The first is that the Russian government has asked that any further discussions be held with greater propriety, behind-the-scenes. The second is that people connected to the Russian regime have floated other Russian names to be considered. Maria Butina (in the Izvestia piece, above) mentioned a Russian riot policeman held in Lithuania for murdering Lithuanian border guards. Someone else has mentioned the Russian assassin, Krasikov.
[TASS, 8/2/2022: Peskov: Here, megaphone diplomacy, a public exchange of positions will not lead to a result ]
[CNN, 8/1/2022: Russian officials requested adding convicted murderer to Griner/Whelan prisoner swap ]
As the White House has said, it is likely these suggestions are merely bad faith requests. Either they are suggestions made by the uninformed or they are merely meant to muddy the waters. At the same time, the U.S. has showed that it is hampered in finding success in offering concessions that the Russian government will accept for Paul's freedom. How many offers have there been in the last 3.5 years? What is the U.S. willing to concede? It all underscores that it may be some time yet before any outcome is known.
[White House press briefing, 8/1/2022: We have been very clear about that. We put forward a substantial offer. And we — you know, we want to have a good-faith conversation on that. We want to make sure that we get this done as soon as possible. What we have heard, as you’ve heard from my colleagues, is in bad faith. It is — and so, you know, is — it’s not a serious — there was a counteroffer that was made, which we don’t see it as a serious counteroffer.
We hope that the Biden Administration will stick to its initial offer, at least to the extent that it will continue to include both Paul Whelan's and Brittney Griner's release. Our family does not underestimate how difficult it is to negotiate with hostage takers and people who act in bad faith. But we hope that Paul will not be left behind again.