Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Wednesday announced that the United States has offered Russia a deal to repatriate imprisoned Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
Griner, a WNBA player has been imprisoned for months over drug trafficking and possession charges for bringing marijuana into Russia. The athlete’s attorneys have attempted to argue that Griner used the narcotic for legitimate medical purposes, though the cannabis is illegal in Russia, even medicinally. Biden promised Griner’s wife in early July that he would secure her release.
Whelan, meanwhile, is currently serving a hard labor sentence for an espionage conviction. The administration has faced considerable domestic pressure to secure the pair’s release.
Blinken acknowledged that the government had made an offer to Russia weeks ago, but did not specify the terms.
“I expect to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for the first time since the [Ukraine] war began,” Blinken said in a press conference. “I plan to raise an issue that’s a top priority for us: the release of Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.”
Media has, however, speculated that the deal would involve a prisoner exchange, identifying Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “merchant of death,” as a likely swap. Bout is currently serving a 25-year sentence for illicit arms deals.
Whelan’s brother, David, told Just the News at the time of his conviction in 2020 that Paul’s legal team was aiming to arrange a prisoner swap rather than appeal his sentence. David Whelan identified Bout as a potential candidate for such a trade.
“The Russian government has fever dreams about trading something or someone for Viktor Bout,” he said. “They have been talking about trying to get his release for years.”
Reports emerged in 2020 suggesting that both Bout and imprisoned drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko could secure release through a trade. Yaroshenko, however, has thus far generated less speculation related to Wednesday’s announcement.
Blinken has requested a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the deal, which would mark the first direct communications between the two since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.