I am so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home. As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays. There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home. The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn't going to happen.
This time, US government officials let us know in advance that Paul would be left behind [12/7/2022], unlike last April when they left him. That early warning meant that our family has been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us. And a catastrophe for Paul. I do not know if he is aware yet, although he will surely learn from Russian media. Our parents have had calls with him every day since his return to IK-17 on December 2d, and they will surely speak to him soon.
After learning of this outcome, I went back to the post I sent out when Trevor Reed was released. It is so important to me that it is clear that we do not begrudge Ms. Griner her freedom. As I have often remarked, Brittney's and Paul's cases were never really intertwined. It has always been a strong possibility that one might be freed without the other. The sentiments I shared in April about Trevor are unchanged: this is the event we wish for so much for our own family. She will be reunited with her family. Brittney is free. And Paul is still a hostage.
But how many more times do I need to write that?
At some level, our family has steeled ourselves for this likelihood. And I think, as the use of wrongful detentions and hostage diplomacy continues around the globe, it's clear the US government needs to be more assertive. If bad actors like Russia are going to grab innocent Americans, the US needs a swifter, more direct response, and to be prepared in advance. In Russia's case, this may mean taking more law-breaking, Kremlin-connected Russians into custody. It's not like there aren't plenty around the world.
Despite the possibility that there might be an exchange without Paul, our family is still devastated. I can't even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly 4 years of this injustice. 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.
And now what? How do you continue to survive, day after day, when you know that your government has failed twice to free you from a foreign prison? I can't imagine he retains any hope that a government will negotiate his freedom at this point. It's clear that the US government has no concessions that the Russian government will take for Paul Whelan. And so Paul will remain a prisoner until that changes.
It will be the fourth Christmas Mum and Dad live through without Paul. They will be 85 and 83 on the fourth anniversary of his detention [12/28/2022] Time is Paul's, and our, enemy. The likelihood that our parents will see their son again diminishes each day his wrongful detention continues. Increasingly, I worry that Paul himself won't survive 12 more years in a Russian labor colony. He has tried to stay healthy but one wonders how long that determination to keep going can endure.
-- David Whelan, Whelan family spokesperson