Biden, Putin, A Notorious Russian Terrorist And A Medical Marijuana-Possessing Female Basketball Player: A Drama Update

Biden, Putin, A Notorious Russian Terrorist And A Medical Marijuana-Possessing Female Basketball Player: A Drama Update

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that he is open to a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss a possible prisoner swap involving American basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whalen, who was convicted of espionage in 2018. 

Following this week’s offer, the U.S. government proposed trading convicted Russian arms dealer and former KGB agent Viktor Bout. 

As the NY Times put it: “One is perhaps the world’s most notorious arms dealer, a man known as the 'Merchant of Death' who sold weapons to terrorists, rebels and militants around the world before finally being hunted down and locked up for conspiring to kill Americans. The other is a basketball player who got caught with a little hashish oil.”

Why Viktor Bout?

Bout, once among the world’s most wanted men, was the fictional subject of the 2005 movie “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage. American agencies hunted him down for years until finally grabbed in Bangkok in 2008 and extradited him in 2010.

One wonders why, after all these years, the Russians are so intent on getting the Merchant of Death back home. Surely, he’s spilled any KGB secrets long ago and is on every no-fly list across the globe. 

Michael A. McFaul, a former American ambassador to Moscow, says it’s probably personal with President Putin, also a former K.G.B. officer.

 “There are lots of hints in Bout’s biography, even on his Wikipedia page, which suggests that he had close ties with Soviet and Russian intelligence,” McFaul said. “You know who else does? Putin. My guess is that Putin wants to liberate his comrade. Loyalty among these folks, the Chekists, runs deep.”

Lavrov Makes Time For Blinken

Speaking on a visit to Uzbekistan, Lavrov said Friday that his ministry received the official U.S. request for a call after Blinken made public his statement, according to AP. "I will listen to what he has to say," said Lavrov said, who had previously stated he was too busy to talk with Blinken.

Why So Public? Pressure, No Doubt

Prisoner swaps are typically negotiated discreetly behind the scenes, but this one is playing out in the press. 

Some veteran hostage negotiators are perplexed. “It is baffling why the U.S. would announce this proposal in the midst of the negotiations,” said Rob Saale, former head of the FBI's Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell. 

Blinken-Lavrov Call

If and when the call between Blinken and Lavrov takes place, it will be their first conversation since Feb. 15, over a week before Russia invaded Ukraine and two days before Griner was detained at a Moscow airport for having cannabis oil in her suitcase. Griner, a legal medical marijuana user, pleaded guilty to the charge, saying she forgot to remove the cannabis oil from her bags.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Posted In: Antony BlinkenBrittney GrinerMichael A. McFaulNicholas CageNY TimesPaul WhelanPresident PutinRob SaaleRussian Foreign Minister Sergey LavrovViktor Bout“Lord of WarCannabisESGGovernmentNewsEurozonePoliticsSportsMarketsGeneral

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