WASHINGTON (WGHP) — The Biden administration is prepared to release convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout in a deal for WNBA star Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, according to CNN.
After many months of debate, the plan to exchange prisoners has now received President Biden’s support. The decision goes against the advice of the Department of Justice, which typically is against prisoner trades of any kind.
“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” said a senior Biden administration official. “We communicated that a number of weeks ago, in June.”
“It takes two to tango. We start all negotiations to bring home Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained with a bad actor on the other side. We start all of these with somebody who has taken a human being American and treated them as a bargaining chip,” the official said. “So in some ways, it’s not surprising, even if it’s disheartening, when those same actors don’t necessarily respond directly to our offers, don’t engage constructively in negotiations.”
The US presented a “substantial proposal” to Moscow “weeks ago” for Whelan and Griner, who are classified as wrongfully detained, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday. Blinken intends to further discuss the offer in a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week.
Whelan has been jailed since 2018 for alleged espionage and Griner has been jailed in Moscow since February for drug possession. Family members for both have urged US officials to secure their release by any means possible.
Griner recently plead guilty in July to drug charges in a Russian court admitting to accidentally bringing cannabis into the country.
After initial discussions between US officials saw hesitancy to offer Bout in exchange for Whelan and Griner, the tides have now changed.
A significant event in the change of opinion was the successful release of Trevor Reed, a Marine who was held in Russia for over two years. Reed was exchanged for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was serving a 20-year cocaine smuggling sentence.
“Whatever the kind of moral indignity of them holding innocent people and trying to extract from us someone like a Mr. Yaroshenko, who is the opposite of that, we nonetheless are so committed to bring our people home that we will make those painful choices in certain circumstances,” said a senior Biden administration official.