Russia today confirmed for the first time that it is in talks to exchange Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout, the notorious ‘Merchant of Death’ arms dealer who has been imprisoned in the US since 2010.
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 agreed upon by Presidents Putin and Biden.”
However, he warned that if US officials speak about the deal in the press — as they did before Griner’s conviction — it could jeopardize the trade.
“If the Americans decide to resort to public diplomacy again, that’s their business and I’d say it’s their problem.”
Griner was sentenced yesterday to nine years in prison in a Russian penal colony after he was found guilty of smuggling drugs into Moscow airport.
DailyMail.com exclusively reported yesterday that the deal to trade her for Bout was on the table and could close in weeks.
A source close to the negotiations said Biden’s position had been weakened as Griner was found guilty and sentenced.
The US position is now weakened. They have shown their hand and now their bargaining position is weakened,” the source said.
A source close to the ongoing negotiations told DailyMail.com that a deal to trade Brittney Griner with Viktor Bout is now more likely than ever, and could be finalized within a month as the White House struggles with weakened leverage to get her out of jail. to get
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Cambodia on Friday. He said there is a deal on the table but the US can’t talk about it in the media
Griner’s lawyers have ten days to appeal. After that, the case would only last a few more weeks, they said. But the Russians may not agree to it as quickly as Biden hopes.
It is now uncertain whether the deal also includes Paul Whelan, an American who has been incarcerated since 2018 on charges of espionage.
The US had pushed for a deal involving both Griner and Whelan. Now that she has been convicted by the Russian court, their influence is weaker.
“The Russians may think Whelan is too much now…after today his place in the deal is not so certain,” the source said.
The US position is now weakened. They showed their hand and now their bargaining power is weakened’
Bout now has less time for his sentence than Griner.
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, federal prison guidelines require him to serve only 85 percent of the total term, making him eligible for release in about five or six months.
John Kirby, the director of the US National Security Council for Strategic Communications, would only confirm that the US wants to make a deal.
The deal has been criticized by Republicans, including former President Donald Trump who earlier this week said it was “not good trade.”
“She went in there loaded with drugs, into a hostile area and they are very vigilant with drugs. They don’t like drugs. And she got caught.
Biden’s position in the negotiations has been weakened by the verdict. Putin has not yet agreed to the deal – and may not rush to it now
At a news conference Thursday afternoon after Griner was convicted, White House aide John Kirby declined to confirm details of a negotiation or whether Bout was part of it.
Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 at the request of US officials. He has been in jail ever since and may be eligible for release in just five years
“And now we have to take her out for an absolute killer?
‘One of the largest arms dealers in the world. He’s killed a lot of people, a lot of Americans, and he’s getting a free map and we’re going to get her out.
Bout’s crimes are so infamous that they inspired the Nicholas Cage movie Lord of War
“She knew… you don’t go in there full of drugs. She admitted it. Doesn’t seem like a good trade to me.
“He is one of the worst in the world and he will get his freedom because a potentially spoiled person loaded with drugs enters Russia,” he said last week.
Bout, a former Soviet military officer, was arrested by the Royal Thai Police in Thailand in 2008 at the request of US authorities.
Former US Attorney General Eric Holder called it “one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers” in history.
Bout was so notorious that his crimes inspired the movie Lord of War.
Griner was arrested at the Moscow airport in February and has been incarcerated ever since, despite unsuccessful attempts by the White House to negotiate her release.
On Thursday, she sat in the defendant’s cage in the courtroom throughout the proceedings, relying on an interpreter to whisper to her everything the judge had said.
It’s unclear if the deal still involves Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since 2018 on spying charges
Before the verdict was handed down, she begged for leniency and asked the court to take into account her good character.
A judge accepted her plea – found her guilty of drug possession and smuggling.
They ruled that she committed the crimes on purpose – which she has denied.
She said she didn’t want to be seen as a political pawn and that it was a simple, “honest mistake” to bring the cannabis pen into the country.
“It was never my intention to hurt anyone, it was never my intention to endanger the Russian people, it was never my intention to break any laws.
‘I made an honest mistake and I hope your statement doesn’t end my life. I know everyone keeps talking about political pawn and politics… but I hope it’s far from this courtroom.
“It was not my intention to break Russian law. I did not conspire or intend 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 verdict, claiming that Russia had “wrongly” detained her