By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – A U.S. former Marine held in Russia on espionage charges that Washington says are bogus has been seen in video footage for the first time in three years.
Paul Whelan, who views himself as a political hostage, was filmed at a labor camp by the Kremlin-backed channel RT, but he refused to give an interview.
Detained in 2018 in Moscow, where Whelan had traveled for a friend’s wedding, Whelan was convicted of spying charges in 2020.
Following a closed trial, he was sentenced to 16 years in a penal colony in Mordovia, a Russian region that experts say is notorious since Soviet Union times for its prison camps.
The United States has designated Whelan as “wrongfully detained”.
Dressed in the prison’s black uniform and matching hat, Whelan appeared in different parts of the jail with other inmates. He was also seen using a sewing machine and at the cafeteria in the RT footage.
“Today was the first time I’ve seen what he really looks like since June 2020,” his brother David Whelan said in published remarks.
The Biden administration has carried out two prisoner swaps with Russia, but Whelan was not included in those deals.
In April 2022, Russia released former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, convicted there in 2019, in exchange for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.
In a December 2022 prisoner swap with Russia, Washington secured the release of US basketball star Brittney Griner in exchange for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout.
This month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Whelan.
Russia is also holding American citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on spying charges that carry up to 20 years in prison.
He was arrested in March in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. Gershkovich, who has denied the charges, appealed on Saturday against the latest extension of his pre-trial detention in Moscow. It remains unclear if and when talks are underway about the release of these Americans amid reports that Russia is seeking the release of undercover agents by Washington in exchange for concessions on the detained Americans.
But prisoner exchanges have been complicated by East-West tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls “a special military operation.”
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