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US offers 'substantial' deal to swap Russian arms dealer for Griner, Whelan
Washington: The United States has offered Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death" in exchange for the release of US citizens Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, both held by Moscow.
Notably, Viktor Bout was given a 25-year prison sentence by the US in 2012. The United States has put a "substantial proposal on the table" to facilitate the release of US citizens Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, both held by Russia in what the US has termed "wrongful detention", US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said.
Blinken on Wednesday said that he would soon press for the Americans' return in his first conversation with his Moscow counterpart for the first time since the Ukraine war.
The US, for the first time, had confirmed that it had made proposals to Russia to release the American basketball star, Griner, who was detained for months in a drugs case and Whelan, sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges in 2016, The New York Times reported.
The notion of trading Griner for Bout surfaced in Russian news media several weeks ago. US officials would not publicly discuss the idea at the time and stressed their concern about potentially incentivizing the detention of Americans abroad by foreign actors looking to win concessions.
However, on Wednesday, State Secretary said that the two countries had "communicated repeatedly and directly" about the proposal, though he would not provide details or describe the Russian response, saying he did not want to endanger sensitive negotiations with Moscow, reported The New York Times.
CNN was the first one to break the news that the United States, in June, offered to trade. Bout for Griner and Whelan. And US President Joe Biden, who has been under growing political pressure to free the Americans, backed the offer.
Blinken further said that he expected to talk with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov in the coming days and urge him to accept the proposal. The two ministers talked to each other before the Russia-Ukraine war, in January. Blinken avoided so much as shaking Lavrov's hand at a Group of 20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali earlier this month.
Biden has been under the pressure to secure the freedom of Griner in particular, whose wife, Cherelle, and several Democratic-aligned political groups have publicly urged him to strike a deal to win her release. Biden spoke to Cherelle Griner this month, according to The New York Times.
In mid-July, the Women's National Basketball Association players took to the court in Chicago at their All-star Game, wearing jerseys bearing Griner's number 42. The New York Times citing NBC News, reported that Trevor Reed, a former US Marine freed from a Russian prison in April after three years of detention, in which he said the White House was "not doing enough" to free Griner and Whelan.
In February, the Russian authorities detained Brittney Griner, on drug charges, after finding vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage while she was at an airport near Moscow.
In Russia, she was stopped at an airport near Moscow and since then, her detention has been repeatedly extended. Griner's trial began on July 1 and she pleaded guilty. Her lawyers have argued that the star had a medical prescription for the hashish oil and mistakenly carried the drug into Russia. (ANI)