State Secretary of State says convicted Russian arms deal Viktor Bout is among those being discussed in a possible trade.
Russia has indicated it is open to one prisoner exchange with the United States, one that would secure the release of convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout as the Biden administration continues to push for the release of imprisoned American basketball star Britney Griner.
“I want to hope that the prospect [of an exchange] not only remains, but is strengthened, and that the moment will come when we will get a concrete agreement,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency on Friday.
“The Americans are showing some outside activity. We work professionally through a special channel designed for this,” said Ryabkov. “Viktor Bout is one of those under discussion and we certainly count on a positive result.”
Bout, once dubbed the “merchant of death,” was one of the world’s most wanted men before being arrested in 2008 on arms trafficking charges. He is currently serving one 25 years in prison in American prison.
Ryabkov’s comments on Friday contrast sharply with earlier statements from Moscow that warned Washington against public diplomacy over Griner’s case or a possible prisoner exchange.
Hours earlier, Griner’s lawyers confirmed this that the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star had been transferred to the female penal colony IK-2 in the city of Yavas, about 500 km southeast of Moscow, to serve a nine-year prison sentence for drug possession.
Griner was arrested on an airport in Moscow in February after Russian authorities said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She has said packing the cartridges was an “honest mistake”.
Russian penal colonies known for their harsh conditions. Prisoners are placed in barracks, not individual cells, and forced to do daily work.
“Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adjusts to a new environment,” Griner’s lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boikov, said in a statement Thursday.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist’s case has drawn international attention, with her teammates, friends and relatives urging US President Joe Biden to do more to secure her release.
Griner is one of two U.S. citizens accused of being unjustly imprisoned in Russia, according to Washington. Paul Whelan, a US Navy veteran, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on espionage charges.
In July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was a “substantial proposalto Moscow to free the couple.