Russian officials respond to USA’s offer of exchange for Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan

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.

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.”

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.

Look:

The “hates America” allegation is based on Griner’s history of taking a knee in protest of the national anthem.

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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Vivek Saxena

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