The United States has proposed a prisoner exchange to Russia to release two Americans. It concerns top female basketball player Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan. Griner is in custody on suspicion of drug smuggling and Whelan has been convicted of espionage.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken does not want to go into details of the prisoner exchange. He only reports that the proposal was made a few weeks ago.
CNN reports, based on diplomatic sources, that the prisoner Russia gets in exchange for Griner and Whelan is arms dealer Viktor Bout. Bolt is serving a 25-year sentence in prison in the U.S.
The intention to exchange it may be politically sensitive. There is no agreement within the US government about offering Bout as a medium of exchange, writes CNN. The Department of Justice would be against, while the State Department and the White House would be in favour.
The Russian arms dealer, nicknamed the Merchant of Death, was caught during an American operation in 2008 for wanting to sell weapons to agents posing as members of the far-left Colombian movement FARC. The weapons would be used to attack Americans in Colombia, it was said.
Russian media previously speculated that Viktor Bout was the intended price for Whelan and Griner. America has been trying to get the basketball star out for months. She was arrested in February in Moscow with cannabis oil in her luggage. She has a ten-year prison sentence over her head. According to America, she is unfairly incarcerated and is the victim of what is also known as hostage diplomacy. However, Griner and Whelans families felt that America was not doing enough.
Countries such as Russia, China and Iran regularly detain foreigners for fabricated or heavily exaggerated offences and then have a means of pressure towards another government. Precisely for this reason, America was reluctant to exchange prisoners for a long time, because they are rewarded in that way, was the shipowner.
The Biden government appears to have initiated a change of course, also prompted by the successfully completed prisoner swap of ex-Marine Trevor Reed, earlier this year. Reed was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020 for assaulting Russian agents. He said he had no recollection of the incident because he was drunk. According to his family, during a party, he was encouraged to drink a lot of vodka, which may also contain other substances.
In exchange for Reed, Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko was released. He was arrested in Liberia in 2011 for drug smuggling. According to CNN, Biden was afraid that the exchange would be criticized by Republicans, but there appeared to be broad support. He would have strengthened him in the idea of exchanging prisoners more often, if there is a need to do so.