OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
A proposed prisoner swap between The United States and Russia is beginning to make progress, the attorney for a notorious Russian arms dealer has said.
The attorney for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, Steve Zissou, said in an interview with CNN that he is “confident” that the trade is going to happen judging by the information he has gotten from “the Russian side, as opposed to the American side.”
The Russians have proposed a counter offer but the attorney believes that Russia would be willing to do the deal 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,” he said.
The US has offered Bout, who is serving a 25-year US prison sentence, as part of a potential deal to secure the release of Griner and Whelan. But Russian officials have requested that Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel from the country’s domestic spy agency, be included in the US’ proposed swap of Bout for Griner and Whelan, multiple sources familiar with the discussions have told CNN.
Krasikov was convicted in December of murdering a former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison.
The request was seen as problematic for several reasons, the sources told CNN, among them that Krasikov remains in German custody. As such, and because the request was not communicated formally but rather through a FSB backchannel, the US government did not view it as a legitimate counter to the US’ offer which was first revealed by CNN on Wednesday.
“This so-called, you call it to counteroffer, we would call it a bad faith attempt to avoid what is a serious proposal already on the table. And oh, by the way, Brianna, has been on the table now for several weeks,” John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said to CNN anchor Brianna Keilar on Monday. “Holding two Americans who have been wrongfully detained hostage for a convicted murderer in a third country is just — we don’t consider that a serious counteroffer at all. It is nothing more than a bad faith attempt by the Russians publicly to avoid what is a serious proposal, one that we are not making detailed in public and has been on the books for several weeks and we urge the Russians to accept it.”
But even trading Bout for Griner and Whelan has been seen by many as too steep a price.
The former DEA agent who helped to capture Bout, Rob “Zach” Zachariasiewicz, penned an op-ed for USA Today in which he warned against making a trade of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, a dangerous man who he helped capture, for Griner and/or Paul Whelan, two non-dangerous, wrongfully detained people.
“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.
“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.
He said that President Joe Biden and others believe such a trade is “appropriate” and are considering it but, he said, supporters of the deal are not considering how dangerous of a deal it is.
He argued that has served less than 15 years of his 25-year sentence, which is less than 60 percent, and that the evidence against him was “extensive and damning.”
“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.
“Bout’s potential reengagement in the arms trade is not the primary national security implication to be considered. Rather, it is the negative and resounding message that such a capitulation would send.
“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