President Joe Biden has reportedly offered to trade Russian arms dealer Viktor Bourt – dubbed the “merchant of death” – for two high-profile American prisoners in Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
If successful, such a deal would be the latest in a long history of prisoner swaps dating back decades between former Cold War adversaries.
These sometimes audacious deals are often the result of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations, with imprisoned citizens becoming pawns in a wider geopolitical war.
WNBA star Brittney Griner was jailed for five months after she was found with a small amount of cannibas vape as she arrived at Moscow airport in February. She pleaded guilty to drug possession mid-trial and is awaiting sentencing.
Paul Whelan was arrested in 2018 on suspicion of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in a labor camp in 2020. His family say the charges are false.
Viktor Bout, a former Soviet military officer, is serving a 25-year prison sentence at Marion US Penitentiary in Illinois after being convicted of conspiracy to kill Americans, acquire and export missiles anti-aircraft and provide material support to a terrorist organization. He claims his innocence.
2022: Paul Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko
US-Russian relations have sunk to their lowest point since the fall of the USSR after Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine in February.
It suggested a further dip in fortunes for former US Marine Trevor Reed, 30, who had lobbied successive presidents for his release since his 2019 arrest and accused of assaulting two police officers while drunk at Moscow. Mr Reed was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020.
Despite rapidly deteriorating relations between the two countries, an exchange was arranged for Russian drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the United States in 2010.
After his release, Mr Reed told CNN he would ‘not be hoped’ for freedom during his 985 days incarceration.
A Biden administration official told CNN the deal was the result of “months and months of hard and painstaking work within the U.S. government.”
2010: Sergei Skripal the double agent and Anna Chapman the sleeper spy
An FBI investigation revealed the existence of a Russian sleeper cell operating in the United States in 2010.
The group of 10 agents had been planted in the United States by the SVR, the Russian foreign intelligence service, and posed as ordinary citizens while trying to find their way into the lives of influential Americans and obtain state secrets.
The glamorous Anna Chapman, posing as the CEO of a real estate company, made headlines.
After pleading guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent, the 10 were flown to Vienna before being returned to Russia in exchange for four nationals who had been jailed for helping spy on the homeland .
Among them was Sergei Skripal, who in 2018 made headlines after he and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok by two would-be Russian killers in the English town of Salisbury.
The couple survived but Dawn Sturgess, a British national who accidentally came into contact with the nerve agent, later died, sparking a major international confrontation between the UK and Russia.
Chapman, who became a model and TV presenter after returning to Russia, called Skripal a “traitor” after his poisoning.
Cold War: The Bridge of Spies
In 1957, Soviet spy Rudolf Abel was arrested in New York and convicted of participating in an undercover espionage operation. He posed as an artist and had a studio in Brooklyn.
His attorney named James Donovan resisted attempts by the CIA to turn over their private communications and appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court, citing illegal law enforcement tactics. He was narrowly beaten 5-4.
Mr Donovan, later played by Tom Hanks in the 2015 film bridge of spieshelped Abel avoid the death penalty by convincing a judge that he might be useful in a future prisoner exchange, and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Mr Donovan faced harassment and abuse for his steadfast defense of the Russian spy.
In May 1960, American pilot Gary Powers, who was flying a mission for the CIA’s top secret U-2 spy plane program, was shot down over the Soviet Union.
Two years later, Mr. Donovan was contacted by someone claiming to be Abel’s wife in East Germany.
Under the direction of the CIA, Mr. Donovan traveled to East Berlin during the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1962. He successfully negotiated the release of Mr. Powers and a second American prisoner Frederic Pryor , with high-stakes trading being conducted in Glienicke. Bridge and Checkpoint Charlie.
The Independent Gt