Russia says there’s been no deal on Brittney Griner release, prisoner swap

Russian official Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that “no agreements have been finalized” concerning a prisoner swap for Russian-held WNBA player Brittney Griner.

Fox News reports that Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said of negotiations over prisoner transfers that “We know that such issues are discussed without any such release of information,” and “Normally, the public learns about it when the agreements are already implemented.”

Speaking to the press on Wednesday, National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby said that “President Biden has been clear about the need to bring home every American who was held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad. And that includes, of course, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. A month ago, President Biden directed his national security team to pursue every avenue to bring Brittany home safely to a family or friends or loved ones or teammates.”

Kirby’s statement followed reports that the Biden administration has offered to exchange convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout for the release of Griner and Whelan and that the offer was reportedly made a month ago.

The New York Post reports that Bout is also known as the “Merchant of Death,” and he supplied weapons to “the most vicious warlords in the world,” helped the Taliban take power in Afghanistan, and enabled “murderous groups to kidnap and train thousands of child soldiers.” He also trained those children to use rape and torture their enemy.

The New York Post said trading Bout for Griner and Whelan would be a “blunder.”

Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, has been held by Russia since 2018 for alleged espionage. Griner has been detained in Russia since February after it was discovered that her vape cartridges contained hashish cannabis oil. Cannabis in Russia is strictly illegal, with possession over 6 grams a criminal offense. Griner’s attorneys said she had a prescription for the substance.

Griner pleaded guilty to the Russian drug charges in early July and said she packed the cartridges by accident.

In court, Griner said, “I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.” In a later statement, Griner told the Russian judge that she was prescribed medical marijuana in Arizona and that her prescription should contribute to sentencing leniency.

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