Russia has admitted that it is in talks with the US to exchange a notorious arms dealer for basketball player Brittney Griner, a Russian diplomat said.
The diplomat’s comments marked the first time Russia said it was in talks to exchange Griner for Viktor Bout, 55, who is in prison in the US, according to a report.
“The discussions on the very sensitive topic of an exchange are proceeding via the channels chosen by our presidents,” Alexander Datchiev, the head of the North America department at the Russian Foreign Ministry, was quoted as saying by state news agency TASS. “Silent diplomacy continues and should bear fruit if Washington, of course, is careful not to fall into propaganda.”
Griner, 31, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February after vape cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis oil were found in her luggage. Griner was charged with smuggling drugs and sentenced to nine years in prison earlier this month.
President Biden said earlier this month he was “hopeful” that Russia would free the hoops star, an eight-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Bout, who was dubbed “The Merchant of Death” for supplying arms for conflicts in Africa and Latin America, was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the US. He was charged with providing weapons in some of the world’s worst conflicts and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012.