The Biden administration offered Russia a prisoner exchange involving a convicted Russian arms dealer, WNBA player Brittney Griner, and former Marine Paul Whelan, CNN reports.
Biden supports a swap involving Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer serving 25 years, despite the Justice Department’s opposition, according to the report.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the US presented a “substantial proposal” to Moscow “weeks ago” for Whelan and Griner.
Blinken said Biden was “directly involved” in approving the proposal but did not confirm that Bout was part of the deal, saying he "can't and won't get into any of the details of what we proposed to the Russians over the course of so many weeks now," he said "in terms of the President, of course he was not only directly involved, he signs off on any proposal that we make, and certainly when it comes to Americans who are being arbitrarily detained abroad, including in this specific case."
No deal yet:
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that "so far, there is no agreement on this issue."
A senior administration official faulted Russia for the impasse.
"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," the official said. "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 was arrested earlier this year after she was accused of having THC oil in her airplane luggage. She is currently on trial.
Whelan, a director of global security and investigations for automotive parts manufacturer BorgWarner, was charged with espionage in 2018 while attending a wedding in Moscow.
The Russian government has frequently floated Bout as a subject for a potential trade for other Americans.
Asked why Russia is interested in Bout, CIA Director Bill Burns last week said, “That’s a good question because Viktor Bout is a creep.”
"The Russians over the years have certainly expressed an interest in in you know, Victor Bout's return but those are, as I learned in my old life, very complicated issues in terms of trying to sort through,” he said.