The Biden administration has officially made an offer to Russia for WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release.
According to CNN, after discussing a possible deal for months, the offer would see the U.S. exchanging convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout for the Phoenix Mercury center and Paul Whelan, who has been detained on alleged espionage charges since 2018.
“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” a senior administration official said. “We communicated that a number of weeks ago, in June.”
Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” is currently serving 25 years in federal prison for “conspiring to sell 700-800 surface-to-air missiles, over 20,000 AK-47 firearms, 10 million rounds of ammunition, five tons of C-4 plastic explosives, ‘ultralight’ airplanes outfitted with grenade launchers, and unmanned aerial vehicles to terrorist group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.”
The administration official didn’t give CNN details of the “substantial offer,” but did claim it was up to Russia “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.”
Griner has been wrongfully detained in Russia since Feb. 17, when she was stopped at a Moscow airport after police say they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. While testifying on Wednesday, the two-time Olympic gold medalist explained that during her initial detainment “she was offered neither an explanation of her rights nor access to lawyers and was instructed to sign documents without receiving an explanation of what they implied.”
She also stated that “after hours of proceedings she did not understand, she was allowed to hand over her personal belongings to a lawyer before being led away in handcuffs.”
The eight-time WNBA all-star pleaded guilty to attempted drug smuggling charges on the second day of her trial. Any deal with Russia would require Griner to admit guilt.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the offer for Griner and Whelan was made to Russia “weeks ago” and that he will discuss the situation this week during “an expected call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.”