Marine Corps Veteran Paul Whelan, Held by Russia, Is Spotted at Penal Colony in State TV Video

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, who was arrested in Moscow at the end of last year looks through a cage's glass in a courtroom in Moscow
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, who was arrested in Moscow at the end of last year looks through a cage's glass in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

A video of Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan surfaced from Russian-backed state media on Tuesday, showing the American citizen -- detained on what the U.S. says are baseless charges -- in a penal colony hundreds of miles southeast of Moscow.

Whelan has not been seen publicly in more than three years, according to his family. He was detained in Russia by the Federal Security Service on spying charges in 2018. He denies the charges, but in 2020 was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Though the Biden administration considers Whelan "wrongfully detained," the U.S. has conducted two prisoner swaps with Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine, one of which was for another Marine Corps veteran, Trevor Reed. Whelan was not included in either prisoner swap despite hopes from his family.

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Reuters reported that Russia Today, a state-funded propaganda outlet, arrived at the Moldovian penal colony in May to film Whelan. A propagandist with Russia Today tried to interview the Marine, but he did not participate, garnering retaliation from the penal colony overseers, according to Reuters.

"Sir, you understand when I say that I can't do an interview, which means I can't answer any questions," Whelan said in the video. The footage showed him, wearing an all-black prisoner uniform, working a sewing machine alongside other inmates.

    His brother, David Whelan, told ABC News that it "was the first time I've seen what he really looks like since June 2020."

    "He seems to look healthy when he stares down the camera at the end of the video. You can see his strength, and I think it's contempt for the Russian propagandists," David told the outlet. "I think seeing him has helped all of us realize that he's resilient and we need to keep helping him so that he comes home."

    In 1994, Whelan enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve and deployed twice to Iraq. He attained the rank of staff sergeant, but was given a bad-conduct discharge and reduction in rank in 2008 after a court-martial found him guilty of larceny charges related to wrongfully using someone else's Social Security number.

    Whelan said that he was in Russia at the time of his arrest to attend a friend's wedding, not for spying, as the Kremlin alleged.

    Whelan is not the only Marine believed to be imprisoned or held abroad. In 2012, former Marine officer and journalist Austin Tice was captured in Syria. Last year, President Joe Biden said that the U.S. knew "with certainty" that Tice is being held by the Syrian government.

    -- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

    Related: Trevor Reed, Marine Veteran Freed from Russia in 2022, Is Injured While Fighting in Ukraine, US Says

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