A Russian diplomat confirmed on Saturday that Moscow and Washington are negotiating a possible prisoner swap, which would implicate a notorious Russian arms dealer imprisoned in the United States and an American basketball player detained in Russia.
The United States declared on several occasions that it had made a “consistent offer” to obtain the release of two Americans imprisoned in Russia, basketball player Brittney Griner and former soldier Paul Whelan.
According to US media, the objective would be to exchange them for the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as “the merchant of death”.
Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States. His life inspired the movie “Lord of War,” in which Nicolas Cage plays a cynical arms dealer.
“The talks on the very sensitive issue of an exchange (of prisoners) are taking place through the channels designated by our presidents,” said the director of the North America department in the Russian Foreign Ministry, Alexander Darchiev.
The names cited by the US press, he said, “are effectively being taken into consideration. Russia has been seeking Viktor Bout’s release for a long time,” he added in an interview published on Saturday by the Russian news agency Tass.
It is the first time that Moscow confirms the existence of talks on a possible prisoner exchange in which Viktor Bout would enter. Negotiations accelerated after basketball player Griner was sentenced in early August to nine years in prison for cannabis trafficking.
Griner was arrested in February in Moscow with a vaporizer containing cannabis-based liquid. The player admitted to having been in possession of this substance, but she claimed to have inadvertently brought it to Russia and used it legally in the United States as a pain reliever.