As the sports world still reels from Brittney Griner’s guilty verdict and nine-year prison sentence in a Russian court, one diplomat working on the case is a bit more positive about the situation.
According to ABC News, former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson, who has been working with the WNBA star’s team, and in his words, is a “catalyst” in the negotiations between Russia and the U.S. is “optimistic” about a two-for-two prisoner exchange.
“I think she’s going to be freed,” Richardson told This Week host George Stephanopoulos. “I think she has the right strategy of contrition, a good legal team. There’s going to be a prisoner swap, though. And I think it will be two-for-two involving Paul Whelan. We can’t forget him. He’s an American Marine wrongfully detained, too.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently confirmed that the government made a “substantial offer” to Russia that included exchanging the two-time Olympic gold medalist and Paul Whelan, a former Marine detained on alleged espionage charges for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Richardson did not reveal details on who the other prisoner involved in the swap could be, but CNN previously reported that Russia also wants Vadim Krasikov, a “former colonel from the country’s domestic spy agency who was convicted of murder in Germany last year” included in the deal.
As you would expect from two superpowers who have been fighting since the beginning of time, the Russian government was not happy about the United States making details of the proposed exchange public.
“If the Americans again try to engage in public diplomacy and make loud statements about their intention to take certain steps, it’s their business, I would even say their problem,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, per The Associated Press. “The Americans often have trouble observing agreements on calm and professional work.”
Richardson, who noted that he and Lavrov were UN Ambassadors at the same time, disagreed with the decision to go public about the offer.
“I wouldn’t have gone public as much as they did on the Bout for Griner and Whelan,” he said. “But it was done. Sometimes when negotiations are not working, you want to throw a little bit of a bomb, and I think that’s what they did.”
The idea of including Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” in a prisoner swap has been controversial. A common criticism is that these sorts of deals lead to more Americans traveling abroad being detained. The former governor of New Mexico defended the practice, explaining they’re necessary to help free Americans wrongfully detained in other countries.
“There’s no data that supports that,” Richardson said. “Yes, they’re increasing, especially with countries like Iran, Venezuela, Russia. But as unpleasant as they are, we have to bring American hostages home.”
Richardson has worked extensively on these cases, so it’s great that he’s “optimistic” about Brittney’s chances of coming home. This is one of those times when staying positive is essential.