MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The US government faced a complex set of internal political “compromises” when negotiating the exchange of Russian businessman Viktor Bout for imprisoned US basketball player Brittney Griner, reports the Washington Post on Saturday, citing senior US government officials. on condition of anonymity.
On Thursday, the United States and Russia swapped Griner and Bout in a one-for-one prisoner swap. Bout was serving a 25-year sentence in the United States for arms trafficking. Griner was sentenced earlier this year to nine years in prison in Russia for smuggling cannabis oil into the country.
Many Justice Department officials resisted the idea of trading Bout seven years before his scheduled release from prison, former and current officials told the newspaper.
“If she was my relative, I would trade. But trading a notorious international arms dealer for a basketball player is madness,” a source said.
Bout has repeatedly denied charges of arms smuggling, conspiracy to assassinate US citizens and financial support for terrorism.
According to Washington Post sources, the most painful aspect of the exchange was Washington’s failure to secure the release of former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in Russian prison for espionage.
For the past few months, State Department officials had advocated a one-for-two prisoner exchange, which was supposed to include both Griner and Whelan. However, Moscow has refused to agree to such a deal unless alleged former colonel Vadim Krasikov, who is serving a life sentence in Germany for allegedly murdering former Chechen fighter Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, is also released.
Germany reportedly signaled to the United States that Krasikov’s release would be “a failure”, a US official told the newspaper.