WASHINGTON — He is an American professional basketball star accused of carrying hash oil in his luggage.
He is a notorious Russian arms dealer known as the “Dealer of Death”, who is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for conspiring to sell weapons to people who said they planned to kill Americans.
And the Kremlin seems interested in linking their fates, in a potential deal with the Biden administration that would free the two as Russia continues its war in Ukraine.
The wide disparity between the cases of Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout highlights the extreme difficulty President Biden would face if he sought a prisoner exchange to free Ms. Griner, the detained WNBA player, from detention in Moscow. The Biden administration, reluctant to create an incentive to arrest or kidnap Americans abroad, would have a hard time justifying the release of a villainous figure like Mr. Bout.
At the same time, Mr. Biden is under pressure to release Ms. Griner, who was arrested at a Moscow-area airport in February and whom the State Department classified in May as “wrongfully detained”. This reflects concern that the Kremlin sees as its leverage in the tense confrontation between the United States and Russia over Ukraine. Last week, dozens of groups representing people of color, women and LGBTQ Americans sent a letter urging Mr. Biden to “reach a deal to bring Brittney home to America immediately and safely.”
The price of any deal could be Mr. Bout, 55, a former Soviet military officer who made his fortune in the global arms trade before he was caught in a federal sting operation and convicted of conspiracy to sell weapons to people who say they intend to kill. Americans.
Russian officials have pressed Mr. Bout’s case for years, and in recent weeks Russian media have directly linked his case to that of Ms. Griner. Some, including the public information service Tass, have even claimed that talks with Washington for a possible exchange are already underway, which US officials will not confirm.