Russia Wants to Swap WNBA Star for Notorious Arms Trafficker!
As valiant Ukrainians keep up the fight against their Russian invaders, there are reports that Russia wants to swap detained WNBA superstar Brittney Griner for a notorious arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death.”
The potential swap was the first time since Griner’s arrest almost three months ago that Russia appears to have publicly signaled its asking price for her safe return if the reports by Russian state media are to be believed.
Russia is looking to exchange the WNBA star in a prisoner swap for notorious convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, several state-owned Russian news outlets reported late last week, citing “unnamed government sources.”
Bout, whose exploits earned him the nickname the “Merchant of Death,” flooded fierce conflicts in Africa and the Middle East with weapons, US authorities say. He was arrested during a sting operation in Thailand in 2008, extradited to the US, and sentenced to 25 years for conspiracy to kill US citizens, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
After Bout’s arrest, the US alleged that his Russian allies tried to block his extradition from Thailand to America by bribing key witnesses to give false testimony. Since his 2012 conviction, Bout has been at the top of Russia’s prisoner exchange wish list and has been linked repeatedly in the Russian state media with potential swaps involving jailed Americans that haven’t come to fruition.
As rumors about the possible swap swirl, US ambassador to Russia John Sullivan did visit Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow last week on Wednesday, May 11, but the State Department would not disclose what was discussed. A spokesperson for the State Department declined to comment to various press outlets when asked if negotiations for Griner’s release were underway and if Russia was seeking a trade for Bout.
“Due to operational and privacy concerns, we are unable to discuss specific details,” the spokesperson said.
While one Russian state media report quoted an unnamed source who described a potential Griner-for-Bout exchange as “likely,” experts in Russian diplomacy viewed that skeptically. William Pomeranz, a professor of Russian law and the acting director of the Kennan Institute, told Yahoo Sports that he interprets the reports as a signal that “Russia really wants to make that trade” but cautioned that they give no indication of the US’s willingness.
“This is Russia saying, ‘Wouldn’t this be a great idea?'” Pomeranz said. “This isn’t the US saying they’re interested. We’ve had other opportunities to get rid of Viktor Bout in the past, and we haven’t done it.”
In the meantime, The WNBA’s Players Association has called on the White House, President Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris to do whatever is necessary to bring Brittney Griner back to the US.
The plea comes after Russian authorities announced on Saturday, May 14, that the WNBA star’s pre-trial detention was extended for one month.
“Today’s news on Brittney Griner was not unexpected, and the WNBA continues to work with the US government to get BG home safely and as soon as possible,” the league said in a statement.