Blinken to discuss proposal to free Paul Whelan, Brittney Griner with Russian counterpart

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. has made a “substantial proposal” to Russia to secure the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.

“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” Blinken said in remarks at the State Department. “Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal and I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and I hope move us toward a resolution.” 

Blinken said he plans to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days and will bring up the proposal to free both Americans, who the U.S. says have been wrongfully detained by Moscow. The conversation will be the first time that the two have spoken since Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February.  

Blinken repeatedly declined to divulge any details of the proposal given to the Russians, but CNN is reporting that the administration has offered to swap convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of Whelan and Griner.  

“I can’t and won’t get into any of the details of what we proposed to the Russians,” Blinken told reporters when asked about that report on Wednesday.  

Blinken said that the proposal had been raised directly with Russian officials “on a number of occasions” but would not characterize their response to it.  

“My hope would be in speaking to Foreign Minister Lavrov, I can advance the efforts to bring them home,” Blinken said.  

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby also said he would not discuss specific individuals when asked about reporting that the administration offered swap outs. He stressed that the president is focused on getting Whelan and Griner home.

“We’ve made a proposal. We urge the Russians to move positively on that proposal so that we can get these two individuals home,” Kirby told reporters.

Whelan was detained in Russia in December 2018 on spying charges that he vehemently denies and has since been sentenced to 16 years in prison. Griner, a popular basketball star, was detained for bringing vape cartridges with hashish oil into Russia in February. Griner pleaded guilty earlier this month.  

The Biden administration has faced pressure to secure the release of both Whelan and Griner, particularly after a prisoner swap earlier this year secured the release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed from Russia but did not include the other Americans held by Moscow.  

President Biden, who Blinken said signed off on the proposal to the Russians, recently spoke with Griner’s wife Cherelle and Whelan’s sister Elizabeth.  

His announcement comes about a week after Biden signed an executive order directing the administration to share more information with families of Americans held abroad and authorizing sanctions on those “directly or indirectly” involved in hostage-taking or wrongful detention of Americans.  

Blinken said Wednesday that the administration is guided by two objectives of bringing Americans wrongfully detained overseas home and dissuading the practice of foreign countries jailing Americans.  

Blinken also said he planned to raise the deal between Russia and Ukraine to facilitate grain exports from Ukrainian ports that was recently brokered by Turkey. A Russian strike on the Ukrainian port city of Odessa over the weekend threw the deal into doubt.  

This story was updated at 4:18 p.m.

Tags Antony Blinken Antony Blinken Brittney Griner Brittney Griner Joe Biden Paul Whelan Paul Whelan Russia-Ukraine war Sergey Lavrov Sergey Lavrov US-Russia relations

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