Moscow and Washington are not discussing a potential prisoner swap involving Paul Whelan – a former US marine, with multiple citizenships – convicted of espionage, according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
Immediately after Whelan’s guilty verdict on June 15, attention turned to the possibility of a prisoner exchange.
“People have mentioned some form of secret consultation, negotiations on this issue. I declare, with all responsibility, that this kind of discussion is not being held with the US,” Ryabkov said.
Last month, a Moscow court convicted Whelan of spying against Russia and sentenced him to 16 years in prison. The holder of American, British, Canadian and Irish passports was arrested in December 2018 after he received a USB device from an undercover FSB officer. According to Whelan, he was set up and is completely innocent.
Following the former Marine’s conviction, a statement signed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is “outraged by the decision,” and called for his “immediate release.”
Whelan’s lawyer has named two potential options for a prisoner swap – Russian citizens Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, who are both serving time in the US. Bout received a 25-year sentence for his involvement in arms dealing and is considered a political prisoner by the Kremlin.
Yaroshenko is an alleged drug smuggler, serving a 20-year term. Moscow considers his arrest to be a “kidnapping.”