WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia on drug-related charges since February, could soon return to the US after Secretary of State Anthony Blinken revealed Wednesday that the Biden administration has made a “substantial proposal” for basketball’s return. For player and fellow American Paul Whelan.
Blinken told a press conference that the Biden administration made the offer weeks ago and that he plans to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the first time since February 15.
“In the coming days, I plan to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for the first time since the start of the war. I plan to raise an issue that is a top priority for us: the release of Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Greiner who were wrongly detained and should be allowed to come home,” Blinken said Wednesday.
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“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” he continued. “Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal. And I personally will use the dialogue to follow through and hopefully move toward a resolution.”
Blinken did not provide details on the nature of the proposal, but the possibility of a prisoner exchange has been rumored since the start of the Griner trial.
One name mentioned is Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US for conspiring to kill US citizens and aiding a terrorist organization.
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Experts have warned of the ramifications the deal, including the bout, could have on American travelers.
Hugh Dugan, an American academic and longtime diplomat who served as the Trump administration’s special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, told Fox News Digital earlier this month that a deal including the bout would not be “proportionate” based on Griner’s charges alone.
“When we have an exchange like this with a hardened terrorist, the proportions are not the same,” Dugan said. “And that’s always a big concern in negotiations, the next day the same country takes another one of our tourists and another American innocently turns against some major foreign policy. That’s an asset we have.”
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Griner pleaded guilty to a drug-trafficking charge earlier this month, saying her “intent” was not to break Russian law. The US State Department characterized Griner as “wrongfully detained.” She admitted that she had vape cartridges containing oils derived from cannabis, but did not intend to break the law. She faces up to 10 years in prison.
“I can tell you that this is at the top of the president’s mind, as is the fate of Americans who have been unjustly detained not only in Russia but around the world,” said John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, following Blinken’s announcement. “Certainly, there’s a lot of focus on Mr. Whalen and Ms. Greiner. We understand that. And we’re working very, very hard on both of their cases. So, I mean, the short answer is that the Russians certainly hope. We can bring families back home.”
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Whelan, a Michigan-based corporate security executive, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on espionage charges. He and his family vehemently asserted his innocence. The US government has denied these allegations as false.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.