The Biden administration has offered to exchange Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year US prison sentence, as part of a potential deal to secure the release of two Americans held by Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in January 2022 after a search found cannabis in vape cartridges in her luggage.
The WNBA star has since confessed but said she was carrying the drug for medicinal reasons on the advice of physicians.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, July 27, that the U.S. had “put a substantial proposal on the table” for the release of Griner and jailed former Marine Paul Whelan in exchange for Viktor Bout.
Bout is serving a 25-year sentence in the US for conspiring to sell weapons to a Colombian rebel group that was on the U.S. terrorism list. Bout was a well-known arms trafficker prior to his arrest in 2008 in a Drug Enforcement Agency sting operation; he was convicted and sentenced in 2011.
This comes not long after State Department spokesman Ned Price warned that “using wrongful detention as a bargaining chip” would endanger Americans traveling in Russia and other countries that might seek to cash in such “chips” in exchange for prisoners held by the U.S.