After pressure from the fans, players, and public opinion for President Biden to work harder to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, the U.S. is reportedly willing to do a prisoner exchange.
“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters at the State Department. “Our government has communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal, and I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and, I hope, move us toward a resolution.”
Although, when pressed, Blinken wouldn’t share any details about the specifics of the U.S. offer, it has been circulated that convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. He would be the center of the exchange for both Griner and former Marine and Russian detainee Paul Whelan. The 55-year-old Bout was once known as the world’s most infamous arms dealer before being convicted in 2011 by a U.S. court and sent to a prison in Illinois for a 25-year U.S. prison sentence.
The Biden administration has offered to exchange Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout for Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, per @CNN
Griner has been detained for 160 days. pic.twitter.com/iGcpT8P07v
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 27, 2022
“When it comes to our efforts to secure the return home of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner you understand that I can’t and won’t get into any of the details of what we proposed to the Russians over the course of so many weeks,” Blinken continued.
In early July after Brittney Griner wrote an impassioned letter asking Biden to ramp up the efforts to free her from her “wrongful detainment.” Cherelle Griner, her wife, revealed that she had yet to receive a call from Biden during that time.
“I will find that balance of harm versus help in pushing our government to do everything that’s possible because being quiet, they’re not moving, they’re not doing anything,” Cherelle said on “CBS Mornings.”
However, since then, President Biden did reach out to Griner, and now it seems they are trying their best to execute a prisoner swap. Still, Russia will have to prove that they want to make the exchange, and their recent moves show that it might be as fluid as presented.
CNN Exclusive: Biden admin has offered to exchange Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year US prison sentence, in potential deal for release of detained Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, @kylieatwood @evanperez @jmhansler reporting
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) July 27, 2022
Now the Russians want another prisoner released in the form of Vadim Krasikov, convicted in December of murdering a former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, 2019 in Berlin. He was sentenced to life in prison.
However, Krasikov is under German custody, and the Russians went through back channels to communicate the request instead of U.S. negotiators.
“This is delicate work,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said during a White House press briefing. “We’ve made a proposal, and we urge the Russians to move positively on that proposal so we can get these two individuals home. The details of it, I think, are best left between us and our Russian counterparts.”
👀Russia asked to swap Griner & Whelan for Bout AND Vadim KRASIKOV—the FSB hitman convicted in Germany in the brazen assassination of Zemilkhan Khangoshvili in a Berlin park in 2019. US & Germany say it's such an outrageous ask, Russia isn't serious, is just buying time, per CNN. pic.twitter.com/MseXhgjZv4
— 🇺🇦Paula Chertok🗽🇺🇦 (@PaulaChertok) July 29, 2022
Now Griner’s hopes for release are based on Russia being reasonable and not dragging in other international jurisdictions. Germany might not want to be a part of a multiple prisoner exchange, especially if they have nothing to gain. If there are German prisoners, they want to be released in exchange for Krasikov, which involves more time for additional negotiation.
The “request” could also be a way to prolong the inevitable, a stalled release for Griner while looking like they are only making demands of their own. Brittney Griner’s nightmare might soon be over, or it is just beginning.