US offers deal with Russia to free Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan

The United States has reportedly offered the Russian government a deal to release two jailed Americans, WNBA star Brittney Griner and corporate security chief Paul Whelan.

While details of the proposed deal remain scarce at this stage, a source close to the White House told The Associated Press that the United States had offered convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to the Kremlin in exchange for Griner and Whelan. In April, the United States successfully exchanged convicted Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshen for imprisoned Navy veteran Trevor Reed.

“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release. Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on this proposal, and I will use the conversation to provide personal follow-up and hopefully move us towards a resolution,” Blinken said.

John Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, told reporters that President Joe Biden personally signed the deal to release Griner and Whelan. “The president and his team are prepared to take extraordinary measures to bring them home,” Kirby said.

“We think it’s important for the American people to know how hard President Biden is working to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home,” he added.

The last known public correspondence between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was on February 22 before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Blinken said his recent request to speak with Lavrov stemmed both from a desire to release the prisoners and to negotiate with Russia on “a UN-brokered deal to release several tons of Ukrainian grain from storage and warning him of the dangers of possible Russian attempts to annex parts of eastern and southern Ukraine,” according to the AP.

“It helps to get clear, direct messages to the Russians about our top priorities,” Blinken said. “What we see and hear around the world is a desperate need for food, a desperate need to bring prices down.”

Griner has been jailed in Russia since February after authorities arrested her for having a CBD-infused vape cartridge in her luggage. She has since pleaded guilty to possession of an illegal drug and pleaded with the Biden administration to help with her release. Over the past few weeks, the Biden administration has taken a lot of heat for not doing enough to negotiate his release.

“It kills me every time I write to her and she asks me, ‘Have you ever met him?’ And I have to say no,” Griner’s wife, Cherelle, said during a recent appearance on CBS Matinees.

I’m sure she thought to herself, ‘I’m going to write to him and ask him now because my family tried and failed, so I’m going to do it myself,’ she continued. “Everything about this is a math for me because I have to walk the fine line of hurt versus help when it comes to my wife right now.”

Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security official, was sentenced by the Russian government to 16 years in prison for espionage, a charge he and his family have categorically denied.

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the prisoner expected to be traded for the American couple, was sentenced to 25 years in 2012 for selling millions of dollars worth of illegal weapons. Russia, however, maintains that he was the victim of an aggressive sting operation by the United States while the judge who sentenced him told The Associated Press that he had served enough time in prison.


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