When it seems that all hope is lost, the Biden administration can still find a way. The US seeks a prisoner swap with Russia between American Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan, and Russian Viktor Bout.
A prisoner swap, also known as prisoner exchange is a negotiation between opposing sides in a struggle to release prisoners. They could be prisoners of war (POW), hostages, spies, etc.
Prisoners Swap: American vs Russian
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken disclosed that the US had made a significant proposal about swapping prisoners between two Americans with a Russian. The Biden administration had talks with Russia to ensure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, in exchange for Viktor Bout.
Griner faced arrest in Russia in the middle of February at the Moscow airport after authorities found hashish oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty to the drug charges against her. The female basketball star claimed that she accidentally carried with her a small amount of the cannabis-related substance. She uses this to alleviate the pain as per her doctor’s direction but has no intention of bringing it with her.
Whelan, on the other hand, was a former Marine and security company executive. He was arrested at a Moscow hotel in 2019 and was charged with espionage. According to the US State Department, both were “wrongfully detained” and raised their cases to a special hostage affairs office.
The Russian prisoner currently faces a 25-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy. Also known as the “Merchant of Death,” Bout sells arms to people who claimed they intended to kill Americans.
“Our family appreciates the Biden administration seeking Paul’s release using the resources it has available. We hope the Russian government responds to the U.S. government and accepts this or some other concession that enables Paul to come home to his family,” said David, Paul Whelan’s brother.
Brittney Griner’s Legal Ordeal
On Wednesday, Griner detailed in a courtroom that she had been dumped into a baffling legal procedure. There is only little explanation of what was happening and what she might do to protect her rights. She claimed that most parts of her interrogation are kept untranslated. Additionally, she was instructed to sign documents without explaining to her what are those papers for.
The Russian authorities accused her of carrying two vape cartridges of hashish oil in her luggage when she arrived at the airport. Russia kept her imprisonment secret from the public until its invasion of Ukraine began.
The WNBA star pleaded guilty to inadvertently carrying a banned substance into Russia because she was in a hurry. A guilty plea in the said country doesn’t end litigation and may continue until next month. Griner might deal with 10-year detention if convicted. The court will have its verdict on August 5.
“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,” Blinken said.
Seeing Prisoner Swap as the Only Resolution
For years, Russia has been interested in the release of Bout, who needs to serve 25 years in jail in 2012. He faced charges of illegally selling weapons. This could be their chance to release Bout through a prisoner swap offered by the US.
Before, the US averted the idea of swapping prisoners, thinking that it could motivate more hostage-taking. Moreover, it could encourage false resemblance between an unlawfully detained American and a foreign national considered as justly convicted.
However, in April there was an earlier deal, trading Marine veteran Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, an imprisoned Russian pilot. It opened possibilities for similar resolutions in the future. Besides, the White House has been plagued with political pressures to have a resolution for the release of Griner and other Americans who were wrongfully sentenced to jail.
At the moment, there’s no implication that Blinken and Lavrov had talked regarding Reed’s release. The last contact between the two officials was on February 22. On that day, Blinken notified Lavrov about the cancellation of the meeting due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It means that Russia is not interested in serious diplomacy on the issue.
The last time they met was in January in Geneva, Switzerland to address Russia’s immense military advancement along Ukraine’s border. It also includes Russia’s demands for NATO to decrease its presence in Eastern Europe. At the same time, the communist country wants the organization to deny Ukraine’s membership permanently. However, the US declined Russian President Putin’s demands.
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