Russia confirms it IS in talks to swap Brittney Griner for ‘Merchant of Death’ arms dealer a day after WNBA star was sentenced to nine years in prison – but warns the US not to speak about the trade in the media
Russia has today confirmed for the first time that it is in talks to swap Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout, the notorious ‘Merchant of Death’ arms dealer who has been imprisoned in the US since 2010.
Speaking during a visit to Cambodia on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: ‘We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by presidents Putin and Biden.’
He however warned that if US officials speak about the deal in the press – as they did before Griner’s sentencing – it could jeopardize the swap.
‘If the Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy, that is their business and I would even say that it is their problem.’
Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony yesterday after being found guilty of smuggling drugs into Moscow airport.
A source close to the negotiations said Biden’s position had weakened now that Griner has been found guilty and sentenced.
‘The US positioned has weakened now. They showed their hand and now their bargaining position has weakened,’ the source said.
A source close to the ongoing negotiations told DailyMail.com that a deal to swap Brittney Griner with Viktor Bout is now more likely than ever, and could be completed within a month as the White House scrambles on weakened leverage to get her out of jail
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Cambodia on Friday. He said a deal was on the table but that the US cannot speak about it in the media
Griner’s attorneys have ten days to file an appeal. After that, the matter would only take a few more weeks, they said. But the Russians may not be as quick to agree to it as Biden hopes.
It is now uncertain that the deal would include Paul Whelan, an American who has been locked up on espionage charges since 2018.
The US had been pushing for a deal that would include both Griner and Whelan. Now that she has been sentenced in the Russian court of law, their leverage is weaker.
‘The Russians might think Whelan is too much now… after today, his place in the deal is not so certain,’ the source said.
Bout now has less time on his sentence now than Griner does.
Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012.
He had already served four years and has since completed another ten.
While he technically has 11 years left on his sentence, he must serve only 85 percent of the total term under federal prison guidelines which makes him eligible for release in around five or six.
John Kirby, the US National Security Council Director for Strategic Communications, would only confirm that the US wants to strike a deal.
The deal has been lambasted by Republicans, including former President Donald Trump who said earlier this week that it was ‘not a good trade’.
‘She went in there loaded up with drugs, into a hostile territory and they are very vigilant with drugs. They don’t like drugs. And she got caught.
Biden’s position in the negotiations has weakened as a result of the sentence. Putin has not yet agreed to the deal – and now may not rush to it
At a press briefing on Thursday afternoon after Griner was sentenced, White House aide John Kirby refused to confirm the details of a negotiation or whether Bout was part of it
Bout was arrested in Thailand at the request of US officials in 2008. He has been incarcerated ever since, and may now be eligible for release in as little as five years
‘And now we’re supposed to get her out for an absolute killer?
‘One of the biggest arms dealers in the world. Killed many people, many Americans, and he’s going to get a free card and we’re going to get her out.
Bout’s crimes are so notorious that they inspired the Nicholas Cage movie Lord of War
‘She knew… you don’t go in there loaded up with drugs. She admitted it. It certainly doesn’t seem like a very good trade.
‘He is one of the worst in the world and he is going to be given his freedom because a potentially spoiled person goes into Russia loaded up with drugs,’ he said last week.
Bout, a former Soviet Military Officer, was arrested in Thailand in 2008 by Royal Thai Police at the request of American authorities.
Former US Attorney General Eric Holder called ‘one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers’ in history.
Bout was so notorious, that his crimes inspired the film Lord of War.
Griner was arrested at the airport in Moscow in February and has been incarcerated ever since, despite failed attempts from the White House to negotiate her release.
On Thursday, she sat in the defendant’s cage inside the courtroom throughout the proceedings, relying on an interpreter to whisper to her everything the judge said.
It is unclear if the deal still includes Paul Whelan, who has been incarcerated in Russia since 2018 on allegations of espionage
Before the sentence was handed down, she begged for leniency and asked the court to take into consideration her good character.
A judge accepted her plea – finding her guilty on drug possession and smuggling.
They ruled that she committed the crimes purposefully – which she has denied.
She said she did not want to be considered a political pawn, and that bringing the cannabis pen into the country was a simple, ‘honest mistake’.
‘I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws.
‘I made an honest mistake and I hope that your ruling doesn’t end my life. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics…but I hope that it’s far from this courtroom.
‘I had no intent on breaking Russian law. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime.
‘I hope you can take into account all the documents, the character lists that have been sent in on my behalf.
‘This is my second home. All I wanted to do was win championships and make them proud,’ she said.
President Biden immediately denounced the sentence and claimed Russia had ‘wrongfully’ detained her