The Biden administration offered to exchange convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Brittney Griner’s release. The deal is an attempt to release two Americans who are detained in Russia: Griner and Paul Whelan. This decision has been in place since the beginning of the year and received support from Joe Biden. This swap would override the Department of Justice, who does not support prisoner trades.
“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” a senior administration official told CNN Wednesday (July 27). “We communicated that a number of weeks ago, in June.” Officials say the ball was in Russia’s “court to be responsive to it, yet at the same time that does not leave us passive, as we continue to communicate the offer at very senior levels.”
The official said, “It takes two to tango. We start all negotiations to bring home Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained with a bad actor on the other side. We start all of these with somebody who has taken a human being American and treated them as a bargaining chip. So in some ways, it’s not surprising, even if it’s disheartening, when those same actors don’t necessarily respond directly to our offers, don’t engage constructively in negotiations.”
Griner pleaded guilty in early July to drug charges, claiming she unintentionally brought cannabis into the country. The WNBA star testified before a Russian judge at the Khimki District Court on Wednesday morning (July 27). The 31-year-old maintains that she had no intentions of breaking the law. The cannabis oil in her possession was prescribed by a doctor to treat injuries, according to her legal team. Additionally, Griner testified there wasn’t a translator present while she was being detained. Many believe Brittney Griner is being used as a political pawn amid the war in Ukraine. She has been detained since February 17 and faces 10 years in prison for the non-violent drug offense.