US offers Russia a ‘substantial’ deal to release inmates Whelan and Griner
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Wednesday (July 27) that the United States has made “a substantial offer” to Russia to release US citizens who are being held in that country. Blinken also stated that he would be pressing his Russian counterpart to respond during a conversation that was scheduled to take place in the following days.
According to Blinken, who was speaking at a news conference held by the State Department, Washington had made an offer to Moscow several weeks ago to bring back former WNBA star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan. Blinken hoped to make progress on the matter when he spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
According to the Tass news agency, which reported the events later on Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry stated that it had not been formally approached by the United States government to set up a phone call.
“Several weeks ago, there was a serious proposal put forth in order to expedite the release of those individuals. Regarding this proposition, our governments have engaged in extensive and direct communication. In addition, I will make use of the discussion to follow up on your concerns on a personal level, and I am hopeful that this will help us get closer to a resolution,” Blinken stated.
He did not disclose what the United States was providing in exchange for their help. It was claimed by CNN that the United States government was eager to make a deal to gain the release of the two American citizens in return for the Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is now serving a term of 25 years in jail in the United States.
Whelan’s Russian attorney has stated in the past that he believed Moscow wanted Bout to be a part of a prisoner swap for Whelan in order to free Whelan.
Blinken declined to characterize how Moscow had thus far reacted to the idea, which he said has the approval of US President Joe Biden. Blinken added that the initiative had received the approval of US President Joe Biden.
Families of hostages and detainees have been exerting further pressure on President Joe Biden, most recently in the instance of Olympic medalist Kara Griner, who has been held captive since February.
Griner was present in court on Wednesday for the most recent session of her ongoing trial on drug charges. She was caught at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggauge. The next hearing is scheduled for August 2nd.
Maria Blagovolina, Griner’s lawyer in Russia, said in a statement to Reuters that “from a legal point of view, an exchange is only feasible after a court ruling.”
Whelan was found guilty of spying in Russia in 2020 and received a sentence of 16 years in jail there. He said he was the victim of a sting operation and denied any involvement in espionage.
After the arrest of Griner and the release in April of former US Marine Trevor Reed, the situation of American captives has gotten more public attention. This comes at a time when ties between the United States and Russia are at their lowest point in decades due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Reed was held in custody for a period of three years. In return for another prisoner, the United States commutated the sentence of Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who had been convicted of trafficking cocaine. Yaroshenko was serving time in prison.
Blinken has stated that he will not be negotiating with Lavrov over the situation in Ukraine during their next phone chat, which will be the first talk of its kind between the two ambassadors since before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
The White House has also been reluctant to comment on the specifics of the US plan, but they have stated that President Biden has asked his national security staff to explore every possibility in order to return Griner and Whelan back to their loved ones in a secure manner.
John Kirby, a spokeswoman for the White House, was quoted as saying, “We believe that this is a serious proposal and we want the Russians to consider it seriously as well.”
Kirby did not confirm or deny that the United States government was considering engaging in a prisoner exchange; however, he did state that the administration was attempting to strike a balance between the “need to get these Americans home” and “that we’re not encouraging hostage taking in the future.”
The offer from the United States was met with excitement by Whelan’s family. “We hope the Russian government responds to the US government and accepts this or some other concession that enables Paul to come home to his family,” David Whelan, Paul’s brother, said in a statement. “We hope the Russian government responds to the US government and accepts this or some other concession that enables Paul to come home to his family.”
“The sooner we can get it done, the better,” he said.