Russia Has Two Americans In Prison, But Why?

Russia Has Two Americans In Prison, But Why?

Russia Has Two Americans In Prison, But Why?

If you don’t know the names of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, it’s not a surprise. Their stories have been buried for the last few years by the mainstream media.

What you should know is that as diplomatic tensions with Russia continue to rise, especially as the entire world pays attention to the health and status of Putin critic Alexey Navalny (who just ended his hunger strike protesting his medical condition and treatment), there are two Americans that are also in Russian prison.

Paul Whelan has been convicted in Russia of being a spy for the United States. He says that these are false charges, as reported by the BBC last December.

The former US Marine has always insisted he is innocent, describing himself as a hostage of “slimy” Russian politics and a “sham” trial.”

But since his conviction Mr Whelan has called me from prison to relate his side of this spy story – a tale of deception and betrayal.”

“I was getting ready and this person turned up, unexpected,” Mr Whelan recalls his arrest in a Moscow hotel room two years ago.”

The “person” was one of many friends he had made in Russia since his first visit in 2006. He knew this man’s family, he’d stayed at their house – even introduced him to his own parents.”

This “friend” worked for Russia’s FSB (Federal Security Service in English, one of the successors of the KGB), and was with him when Whelan was arrested.

Paul Whelan says the entire “ludicrous” case against him was based on the testimony of this same friend.”

“The story was that the DIA [US military intelligence] sent me to Moscow to pick up a flash drive with the names and photos of students from the border guard school,” Mr Whelan says, arguing that such a low-tech mission was “illogical” in the internet age.”

He had supposedly paid for the secret data by wire transfer four months earlier, though Mr Whelan says that cash was a loan so his friend could buy his wife a new phone.”

“The FSB just came up with a random story that doesn’t make any sense,” he says, and no concrete evidence was ever presented.”

“It was really a farce. You hear about these things during the Soviet era, when people would then be taken out and shot. It’s the same thing.”

Whelan believes that he was set up and sentenced in order to be part of a prisoner exchange, and that Russia had two very specific people in mind.

He says two names were always mentioned: arms dealer Victor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted on a drug smuggling charge – Russians in prison in the United States.”

The BBC article freely admits that none of Whelan’s story can be verified, especially because the trial records are sealed. But what is true is that Paul Whelan was convicted of spying and sentenced to 16 years in a Russian labor camp.

The other American in Russian custody, Trevor Reed, was sentenced to nine years in prison on even flimsier charges. Reed was charged and convicted of assaulting two police officers. The problem is, there is no evidence that the assault actually took place.

Reed, who left the Marines in 2016 with an honorable discharge, traveled to Moscow last May to study Russian and spend time with his Russian girlfriend, Alina Tsibulnik.”

On Aug. 15, a few days before he was due to return to Texas, Reed and his girlfriend attended a party organized by her colleagues. While at the party, he drank a large amount of vodka and became heavily intoxicated, his family said.”

In a car going home afterwards, Reed became frantic and demanded to get out. Fearing he was unwell and that he might injure himself in traffic, his girlfriend and her friends called the police, believing they would take him to a hospital or drunk tank to sober up, she told ABC News.”

Two officers arrived and agreed to take Reed to a station, while Tsibulnik and the other followed in another car. At the station she said she was told to come back for him in two hours.”

When she returned, however, she said she found Reed showing signs he had been beaten up, with bruises on his face. Officers from Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the FSB, then arrived and questioned Reed without an attorney or a translator present, she said.”

Reed was arrested and charged with deliberately endangering the lives of the two police officers who had transported him to the station. Investigators accuse him of having attacked the officers while in the police car, shaking the driver by the shoulders, allegedly causing him to swerve into oncoming traffic and putting them in mortal danger.”

When testifying in court, the two police officers involved could not get their stories straight, and at one point the judge laughed at them. However, no camera footage from inside the car was presented, the police telling the court that the footage had conveniently been “deleted.” And yet Reed was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison.

If you needed any further proof that Russia really has returned to most, if not all, of the Soviet-era controls except in name under Vladimir Putin, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed should tell you everything you need to know. Yes, Whelan does have a checkered record, as Marta detailed here. However, nothing Russia has offered up in court, seen or unseen, passes the smell test.

Now, in a rare moment of diplomatic continuity between administrations, the U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Trump, John Sullivan, was held over to continue on as ambassador to Russia under President Biden. This has been important to the families of Whelan and Reed, because Ambassador Sullivan was able to bring the Biden State Department team up to speed quickly on their status. Secretary Blinken had a joint phone call with the Whelan and Reed families, along with family members of other detained Americans across the world, in early February.

The families have been persistent in pushing the plight of their loved ones. Whelan was sick in February of this year, which got the attention of the State Department and the White House. The Reed family participated in a press conference with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy a little over a month ago, demanding Trevor Reed’s release.

The problem right now is that as Biden slaps sanctions on Russia for a multitude of issues – Ukraine, cyberattacks, election interference – the diplomatic dance that Ambassador Sullivan has been keeping up in order to keep Whelan and Reed’s cases in the State Department’s mind is in jeopardy.

Though Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan brought the issue of Reed’s and Whelan’s detentions to the fore early on, they no longer make much mention of Reed and Whelan. Joey Reed said he was disheartened to see the Biden administration shift its focus to freeing imprisoned Russian dissident leader Alexei Navalny even as his son remained behind bars.”

A State Department spokesman said the agency is committed to bringing Reed and Whelan home. The agency said it has maintained “private” lines of communication to free the men who have been “convicted without credible evidence.”

“We continue to be seriously concerned over the treatment of U.S. citizens Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed,” the spokesman said. “They have been deprived of their freedom for far too long.”

The ability to keep track of Reed and Whelan may also be complicated by growing tensions between the two countries. Ambassador John Sullivan, a Trump administration holdover, has long served as the point person for Reed and Whelan within Russia. Sullivan regularly visits Reed, and Whelan’s family says he gives regular updates on Whelan’s condition. Due to increased discord, the Biden administration called Sullivan back to the United States on Tuesday to consult with senior officials as the problems from Moscow grow. It is unclear when Sullivan will return to Russia.”

Both families spoke to Sullivan’s determination and effectiveness as an ambassador. David Whelan, Paul Whelan’s brother, said Sullivan has played a huge role in assuaging the worries of his family. Alexis Mrachek, a Russia expert at the Heritage Foundation, said President Joe Biden’s approach to the Russia issue—including bringing Sullivan home—may only make matters worse for Reed and Whelan.”

Hopefully, Ambassador Sullivan has delegated people to check in on Whelan and Reed while he is back in the United States. But there is little doubt that the current situation, with Biden putting sanctions on Russia, does nothing to help Sullivan come to any agreements as to the release of Whelan and Reed. I can’t blame their families for feeling frantic and disheartened about the situation. The snarky part of me thinks that the Biden administration should assign super-smart-guy and expert on Ukrainian energy Hunter Biden, an expert on getting money out of Russia, to deal with getting Reed and Whalen back to the United States. The rational part of me is praying for their health, their release, and for their families.

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Featured image via opsa on Pixabay, cropped, Pixabay license

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1 Comment
  • GWB says:

    If you needed any further proof that Russia really has returned to most, if not all, of the Soviet-era controls except in name under Vladimir Putin
    Ha! It’s funny to blame the Soviets for show trials. That happened under the tsars, too. Now, the Soviets turned it into an industry, but you really have to blame the tsars for making it a Russian thing. (And Putin has always wanted to use the Soviet tools to make himself more tsar than Soviet President.) Just saying.

    But, there’s something important to keep in mind here and for a lot of other similar cases: these folks willingly traveled to and did business in a country known for its horrendous treatment of prisoners and its abuse of justice. While I support protecting Americans overseas, I have to wonder about the wisdom of these folks, and whether the gov’t shouldn’t make the point with these folks’ stories that “Don’t go to Russia and places like that! Haven’t you people seen Falcon and the Snowman?”*

    Having said that, I hope we get them back.

    (* I think Falcon and the Snowman involved getting thrown in a foreign prison. It’s been a LONG time since I saw it.)

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