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As WNBA star Brittney Griner remains detained in Russia, Russian Media claims talks are quietly underway to trade her for a notorious Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S.
Since February 17, 2022, Griner has remained behind bars in Russia, facing a potential trial and a 10-year prison sentence if convicted for drug trafficking after Russian airport security allegedly found cannabis paraphernalia in her luggage.
Calls to release the two-time U.S. olympic gold medalist and WNBA star have grown in recent weeks after the U.S. State Department changed Griner’s status to “wrongfully detained.” The new status allows for more visibility and resources devoted to her safe return.
Most recently, Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner faced a May 13 court hearing, where her detainment was extended another 30 days, according to her lawyer, Alexander Boikov.
The lawyer recently told the Associated Press that Brittney Griner didn’t express “any complaints about the detention conditions,” yet her family, friends and fans continue to worry about her mental and physical condition in a country currently waging war against its neighbor Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russian News Agency Tass, citing an unnamed source, claims that talks are currently underway to engage in a prisoner swap: Brittney Griner for Victor Bout.
Who is the ‘Merchant of Death’?
“Russian entrepreneur Viktor Bout who was sentenced in the US for arms sales may be traded for American basketball player Brittney Griner who is accused in Russia of drug trafficking, a source in the Public Monitoring Commission confirmed to TASS on Friday,” – Tass wrote on May 13.
Russian businessman and arms dealer Victor Bout was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for attempting to sell millions of dollars in weapons to Colombian terrorists, ABC News reported at the time.
“Today, one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers is being held accountable for his sordid past,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in 2012. “Viktor Bout’s arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts have been a source of concern around the globe for decades.”
Bout received his infamous nickname, the Merchant of Death, for his notorious arms sales that contributed to the killings of innocent people around the world.
Specifically, he became known for running a fleet of Soviet-era cargo planes to conflict zones in African countries, inspiring the Hollywood film “Lord of War.”
Prisoner swap on the table for Brittney Griner
Claiming innocence, Bout responded at the time to the conviction, saying “Some American arms smugglers are even more guilty but they enjoy freedom.”
So far, the U.S. State Dept. hasn’t weighed in specifically on this potential exchange, though a spokesperson recently told Fox News Digital “to have potentially successful outcomes in bringing those people home officials will need to have private discussions,” according to Fox 10 in Phoenix.
Playing for Russia’s UGMK basketball team during the U.S. offseason, Brittney Griner and other WNBA players often travel overseas to help supplement their income in a sport that pays women much less than their male counterparts.
While Fox News has interviewed a former U.S. intelligence officer who says it would be a bad idea to move forward with the exchange, the recent prisoner exchange for U.S. marine Trevor Reed has many expecting the U.S. to do the same for Brittney Griner.