Russian officials have refused to confirm the existence of a possible prisoner swap involving WNBA player Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, saying instead that such matters should be “discussed” privately without any public fanfare. This despite the Biden administration publicly bragging about a potential deal.
“We know that such issues are discussed without any such release of information. Normally, the public learns about it when the agreements are already implemented,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday during a conference call with reporters, seemingly rebuking the Biden administration.
He emphasized that “no agreements have been finalized” and refused to offer additional details, as reported by the Associated Press.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday the U.S. had put a “substantial proposal” that would free Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan. The Kremlin’s Dmitry Peskov said prisoner swaps were typically negotiated behind the scenes and “no agreements have been finalized.”
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) July 28, 2022
In a separate statement, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova reportedly admitted that secret negotiations are ongoing, though she stressed “there has been no concrete result yet.”
“We proceed from the assumption that interests of both parties should be taken into account during the negotiations,” she reportedly said.
These remarks came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced during a press briefing Wednesday that the administration has proposed some sort of deal involving Griner and Whelan.
“In the coming days, I expect to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for the first time since the war began. I plan to raise an issue that’s a top priority for us: the release of Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, who have been wrongfully detained and must be allowed to come home,” he said.
“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release. Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal. And I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and, I hope, move us toward a resolution.”
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) July 28, 2022
While he offered no specifics about the proposed deal, reports soon emerged that it involves trading convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan. This in turn sparked some anger because of the nature of Bout’s crimes.
“Bout, a 55-year-old Russian, was the world’s most notorious arms dealer before a U.S. court convicted him in 2011 and sent him to a prison in Illinois. … Bout was in his mid-20s when the Soviet Union fractured in 1991, leaving vast quantities of Soviet military hardware scattered across 15 newly minted countries. Most all of them were ill-equipped to pay their troops or keep track of the weapons they’d just inherited. Almost anything was available for a price,” NPR notes.
“Trained by the Soviet military as a linguist, Bout began acquiring Soviet military transport planes and loaded them up with weapons. The U.S. says he sold them all over the world. Various reports linked him to wars in Afghanistan, Angola, Congo, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen and more.”
He was known as the “merchant of death”:
Critics say that trading such a dangerous man for Griner, an America-hating WNBA star who screwed up by her lonesome self — she was arrested for smuggling drugs into Russia — makes no sense and would be an unwise move.
They also say it’s unfair to all of the other Americans currently detained in Russia.
It’s horribly sad what happened to Brittney Griner, but the pressures of identity politics are strategically weakening America—something Putin understands well. If you can get a criminal like Viktor Bout back like this, just arrest any American tourist you can get your hands on. https://t.co/DiwF1zIMs9
— Thomas Chatterton Williams (@thomaschattwill) July 28, 2022
— Mr. Harris (@mrharrisinvests) July 28, 2022
Biden is releasing a notorious terrorist in exchange for someone who hates America. https://t.co/W93jDDShEz
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) July 27, 2022
I feel really bad for Britney Griner, she seems to be caught up in war time diplomacy, and it’s sad….BUT this is exactly what we can’t do, trade a major arms dealer for her. Feels like administration caving to pressure and Russia taking advantage.
— HtownRuss (@ZionToNO) July 28, 2022
We’re trading a world-renowned arms dealer for someone who I just recently learned plays sports?
— Bubbletrousers (@Bubble1Mc) July 28, 2022
Doesn’t sound like a fair trade
— Al Seneca (@Real_AEX) July 29, 2022
The “hates America” allegation is based on Griner’s history of taking a knee in protest of the national anthem.
Brittney Griner wishes she could hear the National Anthem today.
— Nick Adams (@NickAdamsinUSA) July 7, 2022
Keep in mind though that the proposed deal also reportedly involves Whelan.
As previously reported, Whelan’s a former U.S. Marine who was arrested at a Moscow hotel and charged with being a U.S. spy four years ago. Though he repeatedly insisted he was innocent, he was sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years of hard labor in a prison camp that resides in the Republic of Mordovia.
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