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Family of Michigan man held in Russia reacts to Brittney Griner’s release

Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP Photo
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a courtroom after a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, on Aug. 4, 2022.

The release of WNBA star Brittney Griner is drawing praise from the family of a Michigan man still held by Russia.

But Paul Whelan’s family and friends wonder if his turn to be freed will ever come.

It’s been almost four years since Russia arrested Whelan and alleged he had classified information. Whelan, who’s been detained by Russia since December 2018, says he thought they were vacation photos.

He’s serving a 16-year prison sentence for espionage, which he has vehemently denied.

The Biden administration offered a trade for both Griner and Whelan in exchange for Viktor Bout, a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel once described as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers by the Justice Department. He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the U.S. two years later.

But Whelan’s brother — David Whelan — told WDET that officials have indicated Russia was not interested in including both Americans in the prisoner swap.

“If they are looking for something that is of parity, where Paul is considered a spy in the Russian legal system, will it take for the U.S. government to find a Russian spy in order to complete an exchange and bring Paul home?”

Whelan says his brother fears he might not survive another 12 years in the dirty and potentially dangerous conditions of a Russian penal colony.

President Biden reinforced his commitment to bring Whelan home during a press conference Thursday.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” Biden said. “We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release.”

Quinn Klinefelter is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, anchoring midday newscasts and preparing reports for WDET, NPR and the BBC. Klinefelter joined WDET in 1998 after earning a M.A. from the nation’s top-ranked journalism school, the University of Missouri-Columbia, and working as a sports correspondent for BBC Radio 4 and as a talk show host, anchor and reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.