The 160 day saga could be nearing an historic end. CNN reports that the United States plans to offer Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Russian captives and US citizens Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. Authorities arrested the WNBA star on February 17 when she planned to evacuate the country. Her luggage contained vape contraband and hashish oil, both illegal in Russia.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken plans to participate in a phone call with foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss a diplomatic swap. It marks the first communication with the diplomat since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Griner acts as a political prisoner, fighting for freedom from her Russian cell. But today’s news marks the first positive actions toward her release from the government.
Griner testified earlier on Wednesday, accepting guilt, but denouncing authoritative practices. The WNBA star says she did not receive her rights, nor did she have immediate access to a translator.
Viktor Bout – the high profile Russian arms dealer imprisoned in the United States – inspired the 2005 film Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage. Known by his pseudonym “Merchant of Death”, Bout rose to prominence as a primary arms dealer following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the United States’ custody since 2008, Bout represents the country’s greatest trade chip for Griner and Whelan. Paul Whelan is a former U.S. Marine Corps staff sergeant accused of spying. Russian authorities arrested Whelan in 2018, awarding a 16-year sentence in 2020.
Significant Timing in U.S. Response to Brittney Griner’s Ongoing Captivity
The phone call between Griner and Lavrov comes at a highly interesting moment in politics. Not only is the call the first official correspondence between the diplomatic officials, but it also comes less than 24 hours after Griner took the stand to testify in her own trial.
Griner’s less adversarial, but stern approach offers a glimpse into the current mindset of the WNBA star. Spending 160 days in prison, Griner’s usage of as a political pawn becomes clearer each moment. In her testimony on Wednesday morning, Griner said, “I remember one time there was a stack of papers that [the translator] needed to translate for me. He took a brief look and then said the exact words were, ‘Basically you are guilty,'”
While the trial roars on, there’s hope that Secretary Blinken’s diplomatic exchange could provide a finale to the seemingly never-ending saga sooner than later.