Brittney Griner Asks Fans to Write to Paul Whelan; Says Letters Helped Her Keep Hope

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 21, 2022

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 10: Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury warms up before the game against the Chicago Sky during Game One of the 2021 WNBA Finals on October 10, 2021 at Footprint in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)
Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner thanked fans for the support she received while being wrongfully detained in Russia and called for them to display similar passion toward the plight of Paul Whelan on Wednesday.

"You took time to show me you cared and I want to personally take the time to write to you and say that your effort mattered," Griner said in a handwritten note she posted on social media. "Your letters helped me to not lose hope during a time where I was full of regret and vulnerable in ways I could have never imagined."

Griner added that other Americans remain wrongfully detained abroad, and their families are also looking to bring them home.

"Those families stood alongside you and all who supported the WeAreBG campaign to bring me home and it's our turn to support them," she said. "I hope you'll join me in writing to Paul Whelan and continuing to advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families."

The U.S. government secured the release of Griner after agreeing to a prisoner exchange with Russia involving Viktor Bout, a convicted arms trafficker nicknamed the "Merchant of Death."

According to CNN, Russia refused to release Whelan with Griner unless the United States managed to get Vadim Krasikov freed from custody in Germany. Krasikov once served as a colonel in the FSB, Russia's intelligence service, and was sentenced to life in prison in December 2021 for murder.

Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in Russia in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage.

In an interview with CNN, the 52-year-old said he was pleased to see Griner leave custody but "greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release."

"I was led to believe that things were moving in the right direction, and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon," he said.

An official for the Biden administration told CNN the U.S. government faced "a choice between bringing home one particular American—Brittney Griner–or bringing home none."

Addressing the situation on Dec. 8, President Joe Biden lamented the contrast between how Russian officials viewed Griner and Whelan.

"Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's," he said. "And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul's release, we are not giving up. We will never give up."