The Biden Administration offered to send convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout back to Russia in exchange for the release of U.S. citizens Paul Whelan and WNBA star Brittney Griner, both of whom are detained in Russia, CNN reported Wednesday, following months of talks initially reported on by Forbes.
Anonymous sources told CNN the U.S. offered the swap in June, and President Joe Biden has approved the transfer.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Wednesday the U.S. put a “substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” which he did not explain the details of.
Forbes reported in May that the Biden Administration had begun preliminary talks to trade Griner for Bout, who was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison in 2011 and is known as the “Merchant of Death.”
Forbes has reached out to the State Department for comment.
Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained in February in Russia when vape cartridges containing hashish oil were discovered in her luggage. She has pleaded guilty to the charges and her trial is ongoing. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. It’s believed Griner’s trial will have to conclude before a deal is finalized, according to CNN. In 2020, Whelan, a former security executive, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in Russia on espionage charges, which he denies and the U.S. has said are false. Bout was convicted for conspiring to sell weapons millions of dollars worth of weapons illegally. Earlier this month, Bout’s lawyer Steve Zissou told NBC News that Moscow is prepared to exchange Griner for Bout if the U.S. were to offer. Both Griner and Whelan’s families have pressed Biden to do whatever he can to release the U.S. citizens.