“They left me behind,” says American Paul Whelan from a Russian prison after his attempt to be released failed.

Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for five years on espionage charges that he and the US government reject as baseless, said it was “unfathomable” that the Biden administration “left me behind” while other Americans were released in 2018. Quid pro quo Prisoners. Whelan told CBS News partner BBC News in a phone interview from prison that he feared he would be excluded from any future prisoner exchange with Russia as well.

“A serious betrayal. It’s very disappointing.” He told the BBC. “I know the United States has put forward all kinds of proposals — serious proposals — but that’s not what the Russians are after. So they keep going back and forth. The only problem is that it’s my life that’s being drained while they’re doing it.”

“It’s been five years. I can’t understand that they left me behind,” said Whelan, who is also a citizen of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada.

Paul Whelan is seen refusing to answer questions in a video released by Russian state media, on August 28, 2023.

Russian state media

Earlier this month, the US State Department said Russia had done so He rejected a “new and important” proposal. to secure Whelan’s release with a Wall Street Journal reporter Ivan Gershkovichwho was arrested in Russia on baseless espionage charges, during a press trip in March.

Gershkovitch is still awaiting trial, but Whelan, who was arrested on similar charges in 2018 while attending a friend’s wedding, was sentenced to 16 years in prison. in prison In 2020. He and his family have strongly denied all allegations against him and said that he is being used as a political pawn by Russia.

The US government classified both men as being illegally detained by Russia.

In Washington, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urged the families of Americans detained or held hostage not to lose hope. He specifically addressed the cases of Gershkovitch and Whelan during a news conference on Wednesday.

“All I can say is this: We are working very actively on it, and we will spare no effort to see if we can’t find the right way to get them home and get them home as soon as possible,” Blinken told reporters.

Blinken said their release was “very much the focus of our work and activities,” but he was unable to provide details about the efforts being made.

Speaking Tuesday at a regular State Department news conference, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller confirmed that Russia had rejected “significant proposals” to release the two men, “one of which was just a few weeks ago. We will continue to look for ways to communicate.” With the Russian government to return them to their homeland.

Ivan Gershkovitch (left) and Paul Whelan are currently detained in Russia on espionage charges that the US says are baseless.

The Wall Street Journal; Sofia Sandurskaya/AP

Miller did not elaborate when asked what, if anything, Russia demanded in exchange for the men’s release when it rejected recent American offers.

according to CBS DetroitWhelan’s brother, David, said in an email earlier this month that the White House had been telling the family that Paul’s case remained a top priority, but he wasn’t sure what that meant anymore.

“It took nearly twelve months for the United States to pool its resources and make a unique offer to release Paul,” David Whelan said in the email. “The offer has been rejected. We are back to square one, no more so than where we were on December 28, 2018. If there are still any stones to clear, now is the time to uncover them.”

David Whelan said: “Now would be the time for the White House to show its willingness to do more than just express other platitudes,” calling on President Biden to meet his family, which he said would “go a long way to achieving that.” He assured us that the President would keep his promise to Paul and would not miss the opportunity to bring Paul back to our family.”

The United States has negotiated prisoner exchanges with Russia in the past, including a high-profile 2022 deal that saw the basketball star. Brittney Griner released By Moscow in exchange for the United States releasing long-time prisoners Arms dealer Viktor Boutwhose illegal actions earned him the nickname “Merchant of Death.”

Whelan told the BBC that conditions in the prison camp where he is being held have “deteriorated seriously”, particularly with damp and black mould, and expressed concern that he would again be excluded from any new prisoner exchange agreed by Washington and Moscow.

“I’m worried there’s going to be a deal that leaves me behind,” he said in the phone interview. “In every case, my case goes to the back of the line — and is left in the dust.”

-Alex Sundby contributed reporting.

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