Two Americans are currently being held in Russian prisons by the United States. The United States offered to swap Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer, for Viktor Bout. Brittney Griner, WNBA’s star, is currently being tried in Moscow on drug charges. Paul Whelan (a security consultant) was arrested in 2020 on espionage and is currently serving a 16-year sentence.
Bout, also known as “The Merchant of Death”, was convicted of selling arms to Colombian terrorists in 2011. U.S. law enforcement who spent years trying to capture and trap the terrorist will not approve of the prisoner swap if it happens.
Griner was found carrying vials of cannabis oil in her bag through a Russian airport. Griner claims she isn’t sure how the vials ended up in her bag, but she says she has a prescription from a doctor for the pain she suffered from sports injuries.
Whelan may have known an FSB agent for many years and may have been able to obtain a classified list from the agency. He claims that he is innocent and was railroaded in Russia by the court.
Although it is not clear if Russia will accept the proposal, it is a sign of growing pressure on the administration to release Griner and Whelan.
It is also a sign of a growing acceptance by the White House of prisoner exchanges as a solution to cases of Americans imprisoned overseas. This was especially after an April trade that resulted in the release of Marine veteran Trevor Reed. This was a crucial publicity win for the administration.
Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, stated that “We put a substantial proposition on the table weeks back to facilitate their release.” “Our governments have communicated repeatedly, directly, on that proposal. I’ll use this conversation to follow up and, I hope to, move us towards a resolution.”
Blinken is trying to arrange a telephone conversation with Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister, to discuss the swap. This would be their first contact since February when the Ukraine war began.
Blinken stated that he would speak to Lavrov as well about Russia’s obligation to comply with the U.N.-brokered agreement to release multiple tons of Ukrainian grain storage. He also warned him about possible Russian attempts to annex portions of eastern and south Ukraine.
He stated that it was useful to send clear messages to Russia regarding key priorities, including Griner’s and Whelan’s release. These include the “desperate need for food and the urgent need for prices to drop,” which is what they also encompass.
This could set a bad precedent if the swap proves successful. It would. However, the political benefits for Biden outweigh any risk to Americans who travel abroad. Biden’s offer to trade a terrorist in exchange for a basketball player and security consultant places a bullseye upon Americans overseas, not only in Russia but anywhere else that a thug believes he can grab an American and swap him or her with someone in our prisons.
Joe Biden is the man to thank for future hostages.