- Russia says it is seeking Bout’s return
- Griner transferred to the Russian region of Mordovia
- Russia is counting on a “positive” result
LONDON, Nov. 18 (Reuters) – Russia said on Friday it hoped to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the United States to return convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Death Merchant”, in an exchange likely to destroy US basketball would include. star Brittney Griner.
Amid Europe’s deadliest war since World War II, Russia and the United States are exploring a deal that would allow captured Americans, including Griner, to return to the United States in exchange for Bout.
“I want to hope that the prospect not only remains, but also strengthened, and that the moment will come when we will get a concrete agreement,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax.
“The Americans show some outside activity, we work professionally through a special channel designed for this,” Ryabkov said. “Viktor Bout is one of those under discussion and we certainly count on a positive result.”
For the two former Cold War enemies, now grappling with the most serious confrontation since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the exchange would mark one of the more extraordinary prisoner swaps in their history.
Ryabkov’s obviously cheerful remarks, the State Department man for America and arms control, stand in stark contrast to earlier statements from Moscow, which have warned Washington not to engage in megaphone diplomacy over the prisoner exchange.
The potential swap includes Griner, who is serving nine years behind bars in Russia after being convicted of drug possession, and Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia after being convicted of espionage charges he denies.
BOLT FOR GRINER
Dubbed “the merchant of death” and “the sanction breaker” for his ability to evade arms embargoes, Bout was one of the world’s most wanted men before being arrested in 2008 on multiple charges related to arms trafficking.
For nearly two decades, Bout was one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers, selling weapons to rogue states, rebel groups and murderous warlords in Africa, Asia and South America.
But in 2008, Bolt was caught up in an extensive American sting.
Bout was caught on camera agreeing to sell US undercover agents posing as representatives of Colombia’s leftist FARC guerrillas 100 surface-to-air missiles, which they would use to kill US troops. Soon after, he was arrested by Thai police.
Bout was tried on charges related to the FARC, which he denied, and was sentenced in 2012 by a Manhattan court to 25 years in prison, the minimum possible sentence.
Since then, the Russian state has been eager to get him back.
Griner has been transferred to a penal colony in the Mordovia region, southeast of Moscow, her lawyers said Thursday, confirming a Reuters report.
At her trial, Griner – who played off-season basketball for a Russian team in the US – said she had used cannabis to relieve sports injuries, but had no intention of breaking the law. She told the court she had made an honest mistake in putting the cartridges in her luggage.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Editing by Mark Trevelyan
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