US wants to trade arms dealer against a spy and a basketball player with Moscow

Brittney Griner and Paul Whelanin exchange of Viktor Bout

In an attempt to free Paul Whelan, accused of espionage and a basketball player Brittney Griner, imprisoned in Russia the United States proposed a deal to Moscow. Foreign minister Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.

Blinken did not give details about the proposed deal, which was offered weeks ago. It is also unclear whether it will be enough for Russia to release the Americans. According to CNN, the US is willing to exchange the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout (55). The news channel says it relies on sources who have been briefed on the issue. They said that the plan to trade Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan for Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States, has the approval of president Joe Biden. The latter’s support for the exchange transcends the opposition of the Ministry of Justice, which is generally against the trafficking of prisoners.

“We have communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of talks with the Russians,” a senior U.S. government official told CNN on Wednesday. ,”We communicated that a few weeks ago, in June.”

Conversation with Lavrov

Blinken said Wednesday that Washington would like a response from Moscow and that he plans to discuss the matter this week during an expected meeting with Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. American officials said that the desire for an answer to the prisoners ‘ offer was the main, but not the only reason for the request for a conversation with Lavrov. That would be the first since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Russia has been interested in the release of Bout, who was once called the “Merchant of death.” He was sentenced in April 2012 to 25 years in prison for illegal arms trafficking, conspiracy to murder and aiding terrorists. The conviction was related to arms deliveries to Colombia.

Bout, who maintained his innocence, managed to stay out of the hands of justice for years but ran into trouble in Bangkok in 2008 when he tried to sell weapons to US agents posing as buyers of the Colombian Marxist movement FARC. Moscow tried in vain to thwart bout’s extradition by Thailand to the US.

American basketball star Brittney Griner, 31, was arrested in Russia four months ago for drug possession. She was in possession of capsules of cannabis oil, an illegal drug in Russia that carries a maximum sentence of ten years, according to the security service at Moscow airport. At the trial against her, she pleaded guilty. In a letter to the White House, the sportswoman asked president Biden for help.

Ex-Marine Paul Whelan, a Canadian with American, British and Irish citizenship, was sentenced to sixteen years in prison for espionage in June last year. He was arrested in Russia at the end of 2018. According to US diplomats, the trial, which took place behind closed doors, was “unfair” and lacks evidence. The former Marine, who appealed, had been required to serve eighteen years in prison.

US officials said that the desire for a response to the offer of prisoners was the main, but not the only reason that the US requested the conversation with Lavrov on Wednesday.

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