Today marks the third anniversary of the sentencing of former Marine Paul Whelan in Russia. On June 15, 2020, he was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison on espionage charges, which both he and the U.S. government deny.
Now, this week, there has been a move toward action from Congress.
In a 422-0 unanimous vote, the House of Representatives passed a resolution, calling on Russia to release Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in hopes of spurring movement to return them home to the U.S.
Since his arrest in a Russian hotel in 2018, Whelan's family has advocated for his release, and suffered heartache as they see him get passed up in recent prisoner swaps — including the high profile deal made to bring WNBA star Brittney Griner home in December, swapping her for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. In a phone call then to CNN, Whelan expressed emotions similar to his family's.
"I was arrested for a crime that never occurred. I'm happy that Britney is going home today, and that Trevor (Reed) went home when he did, but I don't understand why I'm still sitting here. I have to say I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release," he said.
The Biden administration says the Kremlin has remained staunchly opposed to releasing Whelan from Russian custody.
Whelan's family talks to him often and said last year that conditions in his prison camp were getting worse: Prisoners were being fed less and Whelan lost 20% of his body weight.
As talks continue to broker a deal, it remains unclear which high-value Russian prisoner would be able to convince the Kremlin to release both Gershkovich and Whelan to American custody.
In May, the White House announced that Russia extended the pre-trial detention of Evan Gershkovich for another three months. The Biden administration says Russia should release both Whelan and Gershovich immediately, and continues to be clear on that point.
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