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According to CNN, after months of internal debate, the Biden administration has recently offered to exchange Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year US prison sentence, as part of a potential deal to secure the release of two Americans held by Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
“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. “We communicated that a number of weeks ago, in June.”
The official declined to comment on the specifics of the “substantial offer.” They said it 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.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday that the US presented a “substantial proposal” to Moscow “weeks ago” for Whelan and Griner, who are classified as wrongfully detained. The top US diplomat said he intended to discuss the matter on an expected call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week.
Both the families of Whelan, who has been held by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018, and WNBA star Griner, jailed in Moscow for drug possession since February, have urged the White House to secure their release, including via a prisoner exchange if necessary.
Brittney Griner has been locked up since February 17.
Griner, who pleaded guilty in early July but said she unintentionally brought cannabis into Russia, testified in a Russian courtroom Wednesday as part of her ongoing trial on drug charges, for which she faces up to 10 years in prison. It is understood that her trial will have to conclude prior to a deal being finalized, according to US officials familiar with the Russian judicial process and the inner workings of US-Russia negotiations.
According to AP News, it is unclear if it will be enough for Russia to release the Americans. Yet, the public acknowledgment of the offer at a time when the US has otherwise shunned Russia, reflects the mounting pressure on the administration over Griner and Whelan to get them back on US soil.
This story is developing.