Griner and Whelan could be freed from Russia this year: ex-ambassador

Former United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson said on Sunday that after meeting with senior Russian officials he believed Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan could potentially be released from Russia by the end of the year.

“I am cautiously optimistic. I think it’s going to be two for two,” he said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Richardson’s optimism, he said, follows him recently on a trip to Moscow to discuss their release, and the release of other detainees, on behalf of his private humanitarian foundation. He declined to specify who he met, saying only that the individuals are close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I hate to make predictions, but yeah,” he told host Jake Tapper when asked if Griner and Whelan could be released by the end of the year.

Griner, a star of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, has been detained in Russia since February on charges of drug trafficking. Whelan, a Navy veteran from Michigan, has been detained since 2018 on charges of espionage.

Whelan maintained his innocence, insisting he was framed by a friend while visiting Moscow for a friend’s wedding. Griner was arrested after she was found carrying cannabis oil in her luggage, something she said was an accident.

The United States said the two Americans were wrongfully detained.

Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan are seen in Russia, with Whelan holding a sign reading ‘Mock Trial’ during a court appearance.

Richardson, who worked as an emissary in hostage negotiations independent of the United States, said he would continue his humanitarian work despite some pushback from the federal government. White House national security spokesman John Kirby told Tapper last month that “the proper way” to secure the release of Griner and Whelan is through “governmental channels” and that American citizens should not go to Russia.

Richardson said Sunday he agrees that prisoner releases should be negotiated by the federal government, but that “there are a lot of nervous Nellies” when it comes to his job.

“Look at my 30+ year track record,” he said, citing his past work helping secure the release of Americans Trevor Reed and Danny Fenster. “I will continue these efforts,” he said, noting that there are dozens of other Americans who are considered wrongfully detained around the world.


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