The Biden administration has settled on a proposal for Russia, offering to trade an imprisoned Russian arms trafficker for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. President Biden has agreed to the exchange of detainees, which has been under discussion for months, despite the Justice Department's opposition to such deals, CNN reports. An administration official said the proposal to Russia was made several weeks ago. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said Wednesday that the US had proposed terms for the release of the two Americans, without providing names, per the Washington Post.
Griner, who appeared in a Russian court on Wednesday, is a WNBA star who has been held on drug charges since February. Whelan is a Marine veteran who has been held in Russia since 2018 and received a 16-year prison sentence in 2020 for espionage. He denies spying. They would be exchanged for Viktor Bout, who was arrested in 2008 and is serving a 25-year prison sentence in Illinois. He was found guilty of conspiring to kill US nationals and selling weapons to terrorists. Russia maintains a New York court wrongfully convicted Bout.
Blinken did not confirm that Bout was part of the deal, saying only that the US offer was substantial and that he plans to discuss it this week in a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. That would be Blinken's first conversation with Lavrov since the war in Ukraine began. A senior administration official told CNN that Russia has not yet engaged with the US on the exchange proposal. (Read more US-Russia relations stories.)