A proposed prisoner swap to free Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan from Russian custody is making progress, the attorney of Viktor Bout — the convicted Russian arms dealer for whom the Americans could be traded — said on CNN Monday.
The attorney, Steve Zissou, told CNN he is “confident” the swap will get done, based on information from “the Russian side, as opposed to the American side.” He would not elaborate on the details or progress of the proposed swap.
Zissou said he is hopeful the Russians would make the trade solely for Bout.
“Look, it’s no secret they’ve been wanting him back for several years now. They’ve been trying to get him back for decades,” Zissou said.
In a separate Monday interview with CNN, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby declined to confirm reports that Russia delivered a counter offer asking former Russian Col. Vadim Krasikov to be added to the swap. But he did say Russia made a counter offer in “a bad-faith attempt to avoid a serious proposal.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Friday to discuss a deal to bring back Griner and Whelan, Blinken said last week. The secretary declined then to characterize Lavrov’s responses, and a statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided few details.
On the topic of a “potential prisoner swap … Lavrov strongly advised a return to professional dialogue in the context of ‘quiet diplomacy’ without any dubious media leaks,” the Russian statement said.
Griner, a WNBA star, is on trial in Russia after being arrested in Moscow in February, when officials found cannabis oil in her luggage. She maintains she had no criminal intent. Whelan, a former Marine, was detained in December 2018 on espionage charges. He was sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison a year and a half later, a result observers have said violated his human rights.
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