Russia Hopes to Swap Brittney Griner for ‘The Merchant of Death’

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Russia seems to be hopeful that it will begin moving forward with a potential prisoner swap with the United States, Reuters reports.

On Friday Moscow said it hoped to clinch a prisoner swap with the United States to return convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death“, in an exchange that would likely include American basketball star, Brittney Griner.

Amid the deadliest war in Europe since World War Two, Russia and the United States are exploring a deal that could see imprisoned Americans including Griner return to the United States in exchange for Bout.

“I want to hope that the prospect not only remains but is being strengthened and that the moment will come when we will get a concrete agreement,” Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

Ryabkov said the U.S. is showing some external activity, and that Russia is working through a special channel designed for this. 

The remarks by Ryabkov are distinctly upbeat. 

They contrast with previous statements from Moscow which have cautioned Washington against trying to engage in megaphone diplomacy over the prisoner swap.

The possible swap includes Griner, facing nine years behind bars in Russia after being convicted on drug charges, and Paul Whelan who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia after being convicted of espionage charges that he denies.

It comes as Griner was taken to the Russian region of Mordovia, notorious since Soviet times for its penal colonies, to serve a 9-year sentence on drug charges. The penal colony is known among human rights defenders due to its horrible conditions. 

While conditions vary among Russian penal colonies, political prisoners are often placed in harsh conditions where they can be subjected to “solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units,” the State Department’s human rights report says.

The all-star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medal winner was detained in February when customs agents said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

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