A Russian diplomat confirmed on Saturday that Moscow and Washington were discussing a possible prisoner exchange involving in particular a Russian arms trafficker detained in the United States and an American basketball player detained in Russia.
The United States has repeatedly declared that it has made a “substantial offer” to obtain the release of two Americans detained in Russia, basketball player Brittney Griner and a former American soldier, Paul Whelan.
“A very sensitive subject”
According to American media, it would be a question of exchanging them against a famous Russian arms trafficker detained in the United States, Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the merchant of death”. Viktor Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States. His extraordinary journey was one of the inspirations of the film Lord of War in which Nicolas Cage plays a cynical arms dealer.
“Discussions on the very sensitive subject of an exchange of (prisoners) are taking place through channels chosen by our presidents,” said the director of the North America department at the Russian Foreign Ministry, Alexander Dartchiev.
The names quoted by the American press “are indeed considered. Russia has been seeking the release of Viktor Bout for a long time,” he added in an interview published Saturday by the Russian news agency Tass. “The ‘silent diplomacy’ continues and should bear fruit if, of course, Washington (…) is careful not to fall into propaganda,” he added.
This is the first time that Moscow has confirmed that discussions are taking place on a possible exchange involving Viktor Bout. The Kremlin has repeatedly criticized Washington for making public statements about the ongoing negotiations. These discussions accelerated after basketball player Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August for cannabis trafficking.
Brittney Griner, considered one of the best basketball players in the world, was arrested in February in Moscow in possession of a vaporizer containing cannabis-based liquid. His case took on geopolitical significance in the context of the crisis between Moscow and Washington linked to the Russian offensive in Ukraine.