According to a CNN report, the Biden administration proposed trading a convicted weapons dealer to Russia in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner and ex-Marine Paul Whelan, claiming that it was part of a prisoner swap.
In 2011, Viktor Bout, who is also known as the “Merchant of Death,” was charged and convicted of conspiring to sell weapons to Colombian guerrillas and is now serving a 25 year sentence in federal prison. According to reports from Russia, the government has suggested trading Griner, who pleaded guilty to cannabis possession on July 7th, and Whelan, who was sentenced on espionage charges in 2020, for Bout.
The United States agreed to exchange Bout for Griner and Whelan, both of whom the government believes are unjustly imprisoned. Biden’s approval of the deal contradicts the Department of Justice, which is against prisoner swaps in general.
“We made a huge offer that we are believing could be very successful based on our prior interactions with the Russians,” said a senior Biden administration official to CNN. “That was back in June.”
“It always takes two to tango. We begin all negotiations with a bad actor that is on the other side so that we can bring Americans home that are held hostage or being wrongfully detained. We start them all off with someone that has taken a human being that is an American and treated him or her as a bargaining chip,” the official continued. “So it’s not surprising, even though it’s disappointing when the same actors don’t always respond immediately to our offers, and do not engage constructively in our negotiations.”
Griner was detained by the Russian government in early March, with airport authorities discovering hashish oil in her luggage. She initially plead not guilty, but later admitted that she uses cannabis for basketball-related issues during her trial.
In 2020, which is 2 years after the Russian government claimed to have discovered a flash drive with classified information, Whelan was found guilty of espionage. Whelan has refuted all allegations against him, calling his trial “a farce.”
This was done only for political reasons, he said in 2021.
The United States has a long history of exchanging detainees with Russia. In March, the Biden administration swapped Konstantin Yaroshenko, a convicted cocaine smuggler, for Marine Trevor Reed. Reed was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of endangering a Russian police officer’s life and health
The White House has proposed a prisoner swap, according to White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. However, he refused to reveal who the United States offered in exchange for Griner and Whelan.
“We believe this is a genuine offer, and we want the Russians to do the same,” said Kirby.