National Security

Russia Dampens Biden Admin’s Hopes Of Prisoner Swap For Detained WNBA Star

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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Russia said Thursday it was not close to a trade for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, just a day after the U.S. revealed it placed an offer on the table for her freedom.

The U.S. initially proposed a prisoner exchange in June, offering to release notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner, according to CNN. While both sides have been in negotiations for months, Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, said little progress had been made, according to Reuters.

“So far there are no agreements in this area,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters.

Griner pleaded guilty to cannabis possession on July 7 after Russia detained her in March. Paul Whelan, another detainee reportedly included in the negotiations, was sentenced in 2020 on espionage charges.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. had pressed the arrangement on “a number of occasions and directly to Russian officials.”

“The presidents of Russia and the United States discussed the question of exchanging Russian and American citizens imprisoned or detained in these two countries some time ago. They instructed the relevant agencies to launch talks on this subject,” Zakharova said in a statement.

“They have yet to achieve tangible results. We proceed from the premise that the interests of both sides must be taken into consideration during this negotiating process,” said Zakharova.

The White House also declined to comment on the terms of the trade. However, reports surfaced that Bout, an arms dealer who became known as the “Merchant of Death” who the U.S. arrested in 2008 and later convicted on counts of terrorism, may be released from prison in exchange for Griner and Whelan, CNN reported.

White House spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. carefully considered the decision to make the deal public.

“When discussing such topics, you don’t conduct information attacks,” Peskov told Reuters.

Griner’s family and close associations have pleaded with the White House to act regarding Griner’s detention, with Griner’s wife saying she did not trust the U.S. government to effectively negotiate Griner’s release following a logistical error. (RELATED: ‘I Voted For You’: Basketball Star Imprisoned Abroad Pleads With Biden To Bring Her Home)

Blinken will speak to Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov “in the coming days” on Griner’s release, as well as the grain export deal signed with the EU, Turkey and Ukraine last week that some fear Russia may ignore, Blinken said.

Putin’s office and the U.S. and Russian embassies did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment.

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