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US offers Russia agreement in exchange for Brittney Griner’s release

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 27, 2022. American basketball star Brittney Griner returned Wednesday to a Russian courtroom for her drawn-out trial on drug charges that could bring her 10 years in prison of convicted. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)

Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, two American prisoners in Russia, have been offered an amnesty deal by the administration of Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.

Blinken’s remarks marked the first time the U.S. government publicly revealed any concrete action it has taken to secure Griner’s release, who was arrested on drug-related charges at a Moscow airport in February and testified Wednesday at her trial.

Whelan and Griner have been offered in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in a proposed deal, a source familiar with the matter says. Blinken didn’t go into specifics about the proposed agreement.

The offer being publicly acknowledged at a time when the U.S. has otherwise shunned Russia reflects the mounting pressure on the administration over Griner and Whelan and its determination to bring them home.

Prisoner swaps are being accepted more widely by the White House as a way to free American citizens detained abroad, especially following the April trade that freed Marine veteran Trevor Reed and brought much-needed positive attention to the Obama administration.

A source of ours said that President Joe Biden, who authorized the Reed prisoner swap following a meeting with his parents, approved the deal that the United States offered in this case. A phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would mark the first time the two have spoken since Feb. 15, just a week before Russia invaded Ukraine.

The release of Griner and Whelan is one of our top priorities, and Blinken stated that it is useful to communicate this to the Russians. For the American people to understand how arduously President Biden is working to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home, he said, it is crucial, in his words.

In April, a deal in which Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko was exchanged for American prisoner Reed appeared to open the door for similar resolutions in the future, and political pressure has been mounting on the Biden administration to bring home Griner and other Americans designated as unjustly held.

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