Exclusive: Paul Whelan tells CNN that Navalny’s death in prison is ‘extremely worrying’ for him

Paul Whelan, an American detained in Russia for more than five years, told CNN Tuesday that opposition figure Alexey Navalny’s death in Russian prison last month is “extremely worrying” for him.

“I can’t say too much for obvious reasons, but one thing I will say is that if they can get to him, they can get to me,” said Whelan, who called CNN as he spent another birthday in his remote prison camp in Mordovia.

“It’s extremely troubling that someone like Navalny would die under suspicious circumstances, but it’s also extremely worrying for me that this is the sort of thing that goes on,” he said.

“If they are willing to face the repercussions from the world for doing in somebody like Navalny, they’re not going to think twice about doing in someone like me, and then blaming the United States for not bothering to get me back in five years,” he said. “So when I’ve said in the past that my death warrant’s been signed, this is the sort of thing that I refer to.”

As CNN reported last month, there were early discussions underway between the United States and Germany involving a prisoner exchange for Navalny and US citizens, according to a Western official, but no formal offer had been made prior to Navalny’s death.

Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 and imprisoned on charges of espionage that he has consistently and vehemently denied. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020. He has been designated as wrongfully detained by the US State Department.

Whelan described it as “extremely odd” to be spending his 54th birthday in Russian prison.

“It’s been a funny day with all sorts of small parties, drinking tea and coffee and eating cakes and candies and having a decent dinner and cake, and all sorts of things with friends here,” he said. “It really takes you out of the being in prison sort of aspect of things and makes life seem bearable for a few minutes here and there.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Whelan in mid-February – at least the third time the top US diplomat has spoken by phone with the ex-Marine. The two also spoke in August 2023 and December 2022.

“Our intensive efforts to bring Paul home continue every single day. And they will until he and (Wall Street Journal reporter) Evan Gershkovich and every other American wrongfully detained is back with their loved ones,” Blinken said at the time.

Whelan told CNN that it was “a very, very good call.”

“I left the call with a good feeling that the Secretary and other members of the National Security Council are engaged and they are trying to get this resolved,” he said.

Still, Whelan said he would like to speak with President Joe Biden, telling CNN he has “asked several times to have a call.”

He said he would like to “remind the President and the National Security Council that I’m still here, being held hostage by the Russian government, and the Biden administration has got to take decisive action to secure my release. If they don’t do anything, I’m stuck here. And if I’m stuck here, I die here.”

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