The Biden Administration offered a prison swap to bring two Americans detained in Russia home.
As reported on CNN, the United States is willing to exchange a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year sentence in America, Viktor Bout, for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. The two Americans are classified as wrongfully detained.
The article points out, “Biden’s support for the swap overrides opposition from the Department of Justice, which is generally against prisoner trades.” A senior administration official told the publication they believe the offer will be successful based on “a history of conversations with the Russians.” They’ve been in talks since June.
Details of the swap aren’t clear, and the official declined to comment on the offer’s specifics. The reports says it’s in “Russia’s court to be responsive to it.” The official from the Biden Administration said,
“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.” They continued,
“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.”
On February 17, WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney was detained at a Moscow airport after Russian authorities claimed they found vape cartridges while searching her luggage. The cartridges allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Brittney went to Russia to play in the country’s professional league during the WNBA’s offseason. Russia extended her detention three times, on March 17, May 13, and June 6. Brittney pleaded guilty earlier this month and said her actions were unintentional. She’s facing ten years in prison.
Russia has held Whelan for alleged espionage since 2018.