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The United States has said it is ready for a prisoner exchange with Russia to free basketball player Brittney Griner.

The U.S. State Department has taken the rare step of offering Russia a prisoner swap in hopes of securing the release of WNBA player Brittney Greener and another U.S. prisoner, Paul Whelan, a Marine Corps veteran and former security official who the U.S. government says is “illegally detained” in the country. .

Although Secretary of State Anthony Blinken did not disclose the terms of the proposed prisoner swap, a source familiar with the matter told The New York Times that the United States was willing to trade Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for imprisoned Americans. The Biden administration is in talks with Russia for the second time this year to release a US citizen detained by Russia, following the release of Marine Corps veteran Trevor Reid earlier this year.

“A few weeks ago, we submitted a substantial proposal to facilitate their release,” Blinken told reporters on Wednesday. Our governments have repeatedly and directly communicated this proposal, and I will use this conversation to personally follow up and hopefully push us towards a solution. »

According to the Associated Press, President Joe Biden signed the proposed deal. “The President and his team are ready to take emergency action to bring them home,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said of Griner and Whelan.

Griner, who plays basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested by Russian authorities in February after customs officers found two cannabis cans in her carry-on luggage. Earlier this month, the two-time Olympic champion pleaded guilty to drug trafficking but said she had no intention of smuggling the cannabis cans into Russia, saying she had packed them by mistake during rush preparations for his trip.

Meanwhile, Whelan was arrested in Moscow in 2018 on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020. Russia has long pointed the finger at Whelan’s multiple citizenships (he is also a British, Irish and Canadian citizen in addition to the United States) and suspicious information contained on a USB drive as evidence of his espionage activities, the AP reported in 2019.

Booth, a Russian citizen who is reportedly being considered for release, is serving a 25-year term in federal prison for conspiring to sell firearms designed to kill Americans. The former Soviet military man was arrested during a joint US-Thai operation in Bangkok in 2008.

Kat Bowza

Translated by the editor

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