US offers to trade legendary Russian gangster Viktor Bout for two Russian-held Americans

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After months of internal debate, the Biden administration has offered to trade Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year U.S. prison term, in a potential deal to free two Americans held by Russia, Britney Greener and Paul Whelan, CNN reported.

US proposes to trade legendary Russian gangster Viktor Bout for two Russian-held Americans

< p class="wp-caption-text">Photo: Shutterstock

Sources told CNN that the plan to swap Booth for Whelan and Griner has been backed by President Joe Biden after discussions since earlier this year. Biden's support for the swap overrides objections from the Justice Department, which generally opposes prisoner swaps.

“We have communicated a proposal that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with Russians,” a senior administration official said on July 27. “We reported this a few weeks ago in June,” – he added.

The official declined to comment on the specifics of the “offer”. They stated that “the Russian court should respond to this, but at the same time it does not leave us passive as we continue to communicate the proposal at a very high level.”

“It takes two to tango. We are starting all negotiations to bring home Americans taken hostage or illegally detained by bad actors,” the official said. – So in a way it is not surprising, even if discouraging, that the same actors do not necessarily directly respond to our proposals, do not engage in constructive negotiations.”

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced on July 27 that the US “several weeks ago” submitted a “proposal” to Moscow regarding Whelan and Griner, who are being classified as wrongfully detained. A senior U.S. diplomat said he intends to discuss the matter during an expected call this week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The families of Whelan, who has been detained by Russia on suspicion of espionage since 2018, and WNBA star Griner , imprisoned in Moscow since February for drug possession, called on the White House to secure their release, including through a prisoner exchange if necessary.

Griner, who pleaded guilty in early July but said she unintentionally smuggled cannabis into Russia, testified in a Russian courtroom on July 27 as part of an ongoing drug trial that faces up to 10 years in prison. According to US officials familiar with the Russian trial and the inner workings of the US-Russian talks, her trial should be completed before the deal is finalized.

During months of internal discussions between US agencies, the Justice Department opposed the exchange of Bout, people briefed on the matter say. However, justice officials eventually admitted that the Bout swap was backed by senior State Department and White House officials, including Biden himself, the sources say.

The US government has long resisted the prisoner exchange, saying it only encourages countries to detain Americans so they can be used as a bargaining chip. Advocates question these concerns and argue that it is more important that Americans can return home.

Among senior Biden administration officials, the idea of ​​a prisoner swap received renewed momentum earlier this year following the successful release of Trevor Reid, a former Marine , who was held captive in Russia for more than two years. Reid was exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who was serving a 20-year term in federal prison for conspiring to smuggle cocaine.

Biden officials were concerned that the decision to trade Reed for Yaroshenko would be criticized by Republicans. Instead, the decision has received bipartisan praise, including from a handful of Republicans who usually lash out at the administration. The move, the sources say, prompted the administration to reconsider all options, including potential trades, to get Whelan and Griner out of Russia.

“Whatever way they hold innocent people and try to benefit from us like Yaroshenko, we are nonetheless so committed to getting our people home that we will make this painful choice under certain circumstances,” a senior administration official said.< /p>

Their release would also give the White House a much-needed political victory ahead of the November midterm elections, some officials acknowledged. There is also a sense of urgency in the case of the two detainees returning home as the White House faces growing public scrutiny from the families of Americans illegally detained overseas.

Biden recently spoke on the phone with Griner's wife Sherell and Whelan's sister Elizabeth .

As ForumDaily previously wrote:

  • Russia and the United States held a surprise prisoner exchange during a period of high tension, exchanging a marine imprisoned by Moscow , to a convicted Russian drug dealer serving a lengthy prison sentence in America.

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