There Are Still Detained Americans In Russia After Griner's Release
Anne Fogel’s brother Marc and another American Paul Whelan weren’t part of the exchange — a huge blow to their families.LEARN MORE
Kremlin requested the release of former Russian Colonel Vadim Krasikov, who is serving a life sentence in Germany for murder, in exchange for Whelan.
The White House top spokesman for National Security on Sunday hit back on criticism over the prisoner swap that led to the release of American professional basketball player Brittney Griner from a Russian prison but not former Marine Paul Whelan, who is still detained.
"They weren't in the room. They weren't on the phone. They weren't watching the incredible effort and determination by Mr. Carstens and his team to try to get both Paul and Brittney out together. I mean, in a negotiation, you do what you can. You do as much as you can. You push and you push, and you push. And we did," said John Kirby, NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications.
Kirby said the Russian government viewed Whelan — who has been held for four years on espionage charges — more seriously than Griner, making it impossible for the U.S. to secure his release during this negotiation.
Responding to a question on Fox News, Kirby said: "They treat Paul differently, Shannon, because of these sham espionage charges. He is put in a special category by the Russians. And try as we might and believe me, Shannon, we did right up until the very end, we were making efforts to try to get both of them out. There was just no way to get there."
The Kremlin requested the release of former Russian Colonel Vadim Krasikov, who is serving a life sentence in Germany for murder, in exchange for Whelan. Kirby said Sunday that the offer was not considered serious.
"And, as I said at the time publicly, that just wasn't considered a serious offer. How can we get involved in that when he's not in our custody?" said Kirby.
He also pushed back on criticism over the exchange of Griner for noted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
"Nobody's doing backflips over there about the fact that Mr. Bout is a free man six years earlier than he would have been. But we're going to protect our national security. And if Mr. Bout decides to go back to his previous line of work, then we're going to do what we need to do to hold him accountable and to protect our interests," said Kirby.
The White House Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs on Sunday detailed Griner's first moments of freedom on her flight back to the U.S., saying after 10 months in prison she was eager to talk to other people.
"When she finally got on to the U.S. plane, I said, 'Brittany, you must have been through a lot over the last 10 months. Here's your seat. Please, feel free to decompress. We'll give you your space, and she said, 'Oh no. I've been in prison for 10 months now listening to Russian, I want to talk," said Roger D. Carstens.
Carstens said Griner spent 12 hours of the 18-hour flight talking with others on the plane.
"She moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands and asked about them and got their names, making a personal connection with them. It was really amazing," said Carstens.
Griner spent the weekend going through a full physical and mental health evaluation at an Army medical facility in San Antonio. Carstens said on the flight she looked "full of energy and fantastic."
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