Paul Whelan, an American corporate security official arrested on December 28, 2018 in Russia for espionage, needs better medical oversight, his brother told CNN on Tuesday. No further details about his health were shared.
David Whelan spoke to CNN one day after the US Embassy in Russia tweeted concern over Paul Whelan’s condition. He said his brother’s medical status is “unchanged since the embassy raised the issue.
“The embassy has requested an external doctor to be able to look at Paul and to be able to assess his condition. One that can speak to him in English and communicate with him about what his health conditions are so we can get an actual assessment,” David Whelan said. “Right now, that isn’t happening. He’s only getting a first-aid level of help inside the prison.”
Russian prison officials have made assurances he is being cared for, according to a tweet from David Whelan.
Paul Whelan has been in Lefortovo prison in Moscow since he was detained at a hotel in Moscow by Russia’s Federal Security Service six months ago.
His state-appointed Russian attorney confirmed that Paul Whelan was arrested shortly after accepting a flash drive containing classified information that could have been planted on purpose.
Paul Whelan is no stranger to Russia.
He has cultivated a range of social media friendships with Russians, including former and current members of the Russian military, who regularly post photos and messages in Russian online.
But his family believes he was entrapped and falsely arrested. They say he was in Moscow to attend a wedding and to help show American guests around the city he knew so well.
Speaking in a brief court appearance in May, Paul Whelan said he regards himself as a hostage, has been threatened and is “constantly subjected to” abuse and harassment.
“I want to tell the world that I am a victim of a political kidnap and ransom. There is obviously no credibility to this situation. This is retaliation for sanctions. There is absolutely no legitimacy,” he said.
David Whelan said the deputy director of Russia’s prisons made assurances last month that his brother isn’t “threatened.”
Russia, Russian companies and Russian nationals have been the target of US sanctions for several reasons, including the invasion in parts of Ukraine by Russia in 2014 and the cyberattack on the 2016 US presidential election.
Asked whether he would support a swap for his brother’s freedom, David Whelan said he “would support almost anything to get Paul back home, back to his family in Michigan.”
Earlier this week, the Russia Foreign Ministry raised the possibility that Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted in a drug smuggling conspiracy in 2011 and sentenced to 20 years in prison could be returned “in exchange for any American national” held in Russia. He is now serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut.
Other names speculated for a prisoner swap include Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights activist imprisoned in the United States for acting as a foreign agent. Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer dubbed the “Merchant of Death,” who was sentenced to 25 years in US Federal Prison in 2012, has also been mentioned.
David Whelan said the Russian remark about an exchange “is a clear statement that Paul is a political pawn and that they’re hoping to extract some sort of value from the United States by trading him for something,” a person or perhaps land such as the Russian compounds in the United States closed by the Obama administration.
However, David Whelan said he didn’t think swapping a felon for his brother, who was in Russia as a tourist, is a “fair trade” and that such a move puts Americans “at risk for future swaps.”
The Whelan family has appealed to the Trump administration for help.
Trump did not raise the Whelan issue publicly when he was at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, where the US President met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is not known whether they spoke about the issue privately.
“I’m surprised rather than disappointed,” David Whelan said, referring to the fact that the issue didn’t come up in public statements .
“We know that Paul’s case has been escalating in the American government. My sister met with Ambassador John Bolton and so we know it had gotten to that level, that they’re aware of Paul’s issue.
“And so we’re assuming that it’s being spoken about at Secretary Pompeo’s level, perhaps at President Trump’s level. And to not have a public statement of support that Paul is wrongfully detained in Russia is hard to bear.”
Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations, is the US national security adviser. Mike Pompeo is the US secretary of state.
David Whelan said in a tweet after the CNN interview on Tuesday that “we realize the US diplomats working on #PaulWhelan’s behalf need to work behind the scenes, but Paul has asked for a public sign of support from the US administration, to no avail.”
Asked how his family is holding up, David Whelan said “it’s a struggle.” There are “highs,” such as suggestions for a prison swap, and there are “lows when you figure out there are realities that go along with that.”