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Kirby says Russia would not release Paul Whelan in prisoner swap

National Security Council communications chief John Kirby on Sunday said Russia would not trade former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Kirby told “Fox News Sunday” host Shannon Bream that trading Whelan was “never a choice posed by the Russians” and the Biden administration could only exchange WNBA star Brittney Griner for the arms merchant.

“They treat Paul differently because of these sham espionage charges,” Kirby said. “He is put in this special category by the Russians.”

Griner’s release last week was met with relief by supporters after her case had captured the attention of many Americans. The basketball star was detained for carrying cannabis oil in February and sentenced to nine years at a Russian penal colony.

But others have expressed dismay that Whelan could not be traded along with Griner. Earlier this year, the former Marine was said to be included in the talks of a potential prisoner swap along with Griner.

Whelan was detained in 2018 and sentenced in 2020 to a 16-year prison sentence on espionage charges in a trial the U.S. calls a sham.

In an interview with CNN last week, Whelan said he was “greatly disappointed” not more was done to work on his release.

Kirby on Sunday said the Biden administration has worked tirelessly to get both Whelan and Griner out.

“Until the very end we were making efforts to try to get both of them out but there was no way to get there,” he said. “It was either make this deal now and at least get one of them home and keep up the efforts to get Paul home.”

Tags Biden Brittney Griner Brittney Griner John Kirby John Kirby Paul Whelan Paul Whelan Russia Shannon Bream Shannon Bream Viktor Bout Viktor Bout

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