Putin says more US-Russia prisoner exchanges ‘possible’ after Griner release
Russian President Vladimir Putin said additional U.S.-Russia prisoner exchanges are “possible” after the two countries agreed Thursday to an exchange of WNBA star Brittney Griner for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The Russian state-owned news agency RIA reported on Friday that Putin told reporters that the deal was the result of negotiations and compromises, and Russian officials will not refuse to continue to look for them in the future.
He said the Russian Federal Security Service was responsible for negotiating the exchange.
The United State secured Griner’s release after she was imprisoned in Russia for more than nine months, since shortly before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began.
Griner was detained on drug charges after vape cartridges were found in her suitcase. She was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to nine years imprisonment, being transferred to a penal colony last month.
Bout was serving a 25-year sentence for a variety of charges, including conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
The Biden administration has been trying for months to negotiate with Russia the return of Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, both of whom U.S. officials have said were detained on trumped-up charges, but President Biden said Russia was treating Whelan’s case differently and would not include him in the Griner deal for Bout.
Whelan was arrested in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges and is serving a 16-year prison sentence.
Some have criticized the Biden administration for not securing Whelan’s freedom in the deal that freed Griner, but officials have emphasized that they plan to continue to seek Whelan’s release.
CNN reported that U.S. officials offered Russia multiple options of Russian prisoners to trade for Whelan’s release, but Russia would only consider a deal if they received former colonel Vadim Krasikov, a Russian spy who is serving a life sentence for murder in Germany.
The German government was not willing to work with the U.S. to free Krasikov.
“We have shown an openness to talk about that which is actually available to us and gotten only in response a demand for something not available to us,” a senior Biden administration official told CNN.