Whelan's lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, who intends to appeal the ruling, maintains that Russia's security service made plain that Whelan was arrested to secure the release of two Russian prisoners in the U.S.: arms dealer Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot convicted of narcotics trafficking. “Basically, no one hid this” aim, Zherebenkov commented to reporters after Whelan’s trial.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated on June 15 that Russia has, in the past, proposed exchanges of American prisoners for Russian prisoners held in the U.S. “As previously, we support this position,” Ryabkov said, RIA Novosti reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, claimed to have no knowledge of discussions about an exchange, asserting that people are not used in Russia “like pawns in a diplomatic game.”
Two observers interviewed by Current Time on June 15, however, believe the White House is likely to agree to an exchange.
U.S. President Donald Trump cinching such a deal on the eve of the November presidential elections would be “a powerful step that would play well with his supporters,” predicted Aleksei Naumov, an American affairs specialist and journalist on the non-governmental Russian International Affairs Council.
Mark Pomar, a senior national security fellow at the University of Texas at Austin and former assistant director of RFE/RL’s Russian Service, agreed. “Here’s a problem, it needs to be resolved, and [Trump] can reach an agreement personally with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. And this would be, I think, for him, yet another example of the fact that he can show himself to be a great diplomat.”
Any such exchange likely would occur by October at the latest, Naumov and Pomar concurred.
The two refrained, however, from stating who would be the Russian prisoners exchanged for Whelan.
Although Whelan had earlier complained about conditions in prison while awaiting trial after his 2018 arrest, both believe that he will now live in relative comfort; apart from any psychological discomfort from his ignorance of the Russian language and culture, added Pomar.
“I don’t think that we’ll get reports that he’s living like in the gulag or is digging the permafrost in the north,” Naumov commented, referring to Soviet-era forms of punishment. “As a rule, I think, everything will be fine for him, since they’re preparing him, it seems to me, in many ways for an exchange.”
Subjecting Whelan to “any kind of misery in a Russian prison wouldn’t be to his benefit, nor that of the Russian authorities, nor that of Russian-American relations,” he said.