Bill Richardson says he is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan will be home soon
WASHINGTON, DC: Women’s basketball star Brittney Griner and ex-US Marine Paul Whelan, held in Russian prison are likely to get released by the end of this year. According to former US Diplomat Bill Richardson, the two Americans will be swapped with the pair for Merchant of Death arms dealer, Viktor Bout, with negotiations on.
WNBA heartthrob Brittney Griner was caught with a marijuana pen at the airport in February, and on the side, Paul Whelan is accused of spying for the US. Richardson visited Russia three weeks ago to further speed up the negotiations and now sounds confident of a breakthrough with the deal closing out soon.
In an interview with CNN on Oct 09, he shared that he had met with senior Russian officials and close aides of Vladimir Putin on his trip, though he clarified that he wasn’t representing the US. “I am cautiously optimistic on the Griner (and) Whelan negotiations,” said Richardson.
It hasn’t been made official, which Russian prisoners were to be swapped, but insiders suggest that officials have been silently working on negotiating a deal to release Merchant of Death arms dealer Viktor Bout.
When asked if the two Americans will be home by this year, Richardson responded, “I do think so. Now, I hate making predictions, but yes.” Griner is a two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist, who is currently serving a 9-year sentence in a Russian prison, after pleading guilty to drug charges. The airport authority found ‘vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.’
The other American citizen, Whelan, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in jail after being found guilty of spying, the charges he denies. He holds multiple passports, including American, Canadian, British, and Irish. It was in late July when the United States made it public that they had put proposed a ‘substantial offer’ to secure the release of two Americans.
Sources closely following the development had said it is likely in exchange for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan. As per recent reports, Moscow has shared the name of the second Russian prisoner in America, but no further details are available from Washington as of now on the name.
Both countries' diplomatic relationship has deteriorated since Russia invaded Ukraine which began on Feb 24. Richardson has successfully been able to secure the release of US journalist Danny Fenster who was held in Myanmar and was let go last year. Richardson has a strong diplomatic channel and has served as an American governor to Mexico, and representative to United Nation.