The Biden administration has offered a deal with Russia to swap Brittney Griner and another jailed American with a Russian arms dealer.
WNBA star Griner was arrested at a Russian airport back in February after police allegedly found cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage.
The 31-year-old is now in Russian custody facing up to 10 years in prison if convicted of transporting drugs.
Now the United States has announced it has made a ‘substantial’ offer to bring home Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, in exchange for convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release.
“Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal, and I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and, I hope, to move us toward a resolution.”
Officials said the deal had been signed off by President Joe Biden, with Jon Kirby, a White House national security spokesperson, telling reporters: “The president and his team are willing to take extraordinary steps to bring them home.”
Griner acknowledged in court this month that she had vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage when arriving in Moscow earlier this year.
However, she claims she had no criminal intent, explaining at her trial yesterday, Wednesday 27 July, that she had a doctor’s recommendation for it and had packed in haste.
After being pulled aside at the airport when inspectors found the cartridges, she claims a language interpreter translated only a fraction of her questioning, and that officials had told her to sign documents without providing a full explanation.
Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges in 2020.
While he and his family have always claimed he is innocent, the US government has also denounced the charges as false.
Russia has always expressed interest in the release of Bout, a Russin arms dealer once known as the ‘Merchant of Death’.
In 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison on US charges that he schemed to illegally sell weapons worth millions of dollars.
Blinken said he had requested a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, which, if it goes ahead, would mark the first conversation the pair have had since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Blinken added that he also planned to speak to Lavrov about the importance of Russia complying with a UN-brokered deal to free Ukrainian grain from storage, as well as warning about the dangers of Russian attempts to annex parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.
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