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Talks Heat Up Over Griner Swap For Russian Terrorist As Griner Team Appeals Drug Conviction In Russia

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


A Russian court found WNBA player Brittney Griner guilty on Thursday on drug smuggling and possession charges.

She was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison after a month-long trial and nearly six months after the basketball player was arrested at a Russian airport with cannabis in her luggage.

Russia has confirmed that it is in talks to swap Griner for Viktor Bout, the notorious “Merchant of Death” arms dealer who has been imprisoned in the United States since 2010.

According to the New York Times, talks about exchanging Griner for the Russian terrorist are becoming more open.

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High-ranking Russian diplomat Aleksandr Darchiev said political negotiations with the U.S. are underway.

“The discussion of the quite sensitive topic of prisoner exchange of Russian and American citizens has been ongoing along the channels set out by the two presidents,” Darchiev told Russian state media.

Notably, then-Attorney General Eric Holder in November 2011 described Bout as “one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers” who allegedly tried to “sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to terrorists for use in killing Americans.”

“Today, one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers is being held accountable for his sordid past,” Holder said after Bout was convicted on terrorism charges. “Viktor Bout’s arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts have been a source of concern around the globe for decades. Today, he faces the prospect of life in prison for his efforts to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to terrorists for use in killing Americans.”

A former DEA agent slammed the potential deal, calling it “dangerous” for the United States.

Rob “Zach” Zachariasiewicz wrote an op-ed for USA Today and warned against making a trade of Bout for Griner.

“Bout, who is known as the “Merchant of Death,” provided the fuel for conflicts across the globe. He was a critical player in the global illicit arms trade not because he could obtain weapons but because he could deliver his destructive cargo anywhere in the world through his control of a private fleet of military aircraft. And he did just that,” the former DEA agent said.

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“A tremendous amount of resources and political capital were spent on the critical national security investigation into Bout’s actions. Lives were placed at risk, and tireless efforts were made. Now many voices are not being adequately considered in these deliberations over whether to free Bout in exchange for an American. Those voices include an entire generation of maimed and orphaned inhabitants of war-torn countries throughout the world, especially in Africa,” he said.

“In a recorded undercover meeting, he declared to persons he believed to be terrorist facilitators that the United States was his sworn enemy. He offered them, as part of an extensive arsenal of heavy weapons, hundreds of surface-to-air missiles to be used against U.S. military advisers and the Colombian military,” the former agent said.

“Negotiating for Bout’s release is a feckless and shortsighted foreign policy. Such actions merely encourage our adversaries to engage in the kidnapping, illegal detention, and ransoming of American citizens throughout the world. Organizations such as Hezbollah, drug cartels, and the Russian Federal Security Service are emboldened when their criminal actions are rewarded. We must make abundantly clear that there is nothing to be gained by engaging in these criminal actions,” he said

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “We are ready to discuss this topic but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by presidents Putin and Biden. If the Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy, that is their business and I would even say that it is their problem.”

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