After months of internal debate, the Biden administration has offered to trade Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker, for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. Biden’s support for the swap overrides opposition from the Department of Justice.
A senior administration official told CNN that the US had made a “substantial offer” to Russia.
The families of Whelan and Griner have urged the White House to secure their release, including via a prisoner exchange if necessary. The US presented a “substantial proposal” to Moscow “weeks ago”, according to the secretary of state.
The idea of prisoner swaps gained new momentum among senior Biden administration officials after the successful release of Trevor Reed. The administration is now reexamining all options to get Whelan and Griner out of Russia.
Reed was traded for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot then serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for cocaine smuggling conspiracy. Reed was a former marine that was held captive by Russia for more than two years.
Securing the release of two American detainees would give the White House a much-needed political win ahead of the midterm elections in November.
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