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Kremlin Responds To White House Offer For Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan

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


The Kremlin has responded to the White House making a “substantial offer” for Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, and they were not too thrilled that the offer was not kept secret.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States made an offer but he did not mention what many have speculated, that the deal involves Russian terrorist and arms dealer Viktor Bout,” Fox News reported.

The next day Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that prisoner swaps are generally negotiated behind the scenes.

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“We know that such issues are discussed without any such release of information,” the spokesman said. “Normally, the public learns about it when the agreements are already implemented.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova did admit that the Kremlin and U.S. officials have had talks but, “there has been no concrete result yet.”

“We proceed from the assumption that interests of both parties should be taken into account during the negotiations,” she said.

Russia and President Vladimir Putin expert Rebekah Koffler, a Russian-born former U.S. intelligence officer, said that it is tough to predict how the deal is going to work.

“It’s hard to predict now exactly the outcome of these negotiations because, on the one hand, the Russians want Viktor Bout back, as he is a former military intelligence officer with likely indirect ties to Putin himself,” she said.

“On the other hand, with the counterproductive narrative that’s coming out of Washington — calling Putin a war criminal (even though he might deserve it), the Senate having approved a resolution yesterday, which aims to designate Russia a ‘sponsor of terrorism’ — and the overall crisis in the U.S.-Russian relations, Washington’s expectation that Russia will play ball with them is naïve,” she said to Fox News.

“Putin knows that President Biden is under pressure to bring these Americans home, amid his domestic popularity dropping rapidly — he will almost certainly try to squeeze concessions from the Biden administration. Putin is in no hurry to accept Washington’s proposal,” she said.

But former DEA agent Rob “Zach” Zachariasiewicz, penned an op-ed for USA Today in which he warned against making a trade of Bout, a dangerous man who he helped capture, for Griner and/or Paul Whelan, two non-dangerous, wrongfully detained people.

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“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.”

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“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 re-engagement 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

He argued that it would be a betrayal of the people, domestically and internationally, who risked their lives to arrest Bout, if he were to be used as a trade chip to get back non-dangerous prisoners.

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He also placed blame on Griner, Whelan, and others who made bad choices to get themselves into the situation they are in.

“We also must find ways to discourage our citizens from needlessly placing themselves in harm’s way – whether missionaries looking to spread goodwill, adventure seekers chasing a unique experience or the vulnerable succumbing to criminal scams. I speak from experience, as I dedicated nearly three years to seeking the successful release of an innocent American citizen jailed overseas,” the former agent said.

“Griner, Whelan, and Trevor Reed each decided to travel to Russia for profit and/or personal pleasure. Russia has been a hostile state since long before the invasion of Ukraine. That said, I have nothing but prayers and well wishes for each of them and their families. We should not abandon our citizens in their time of need and should make tireless efforts to get them safely home to their loved ones – but these efforts should not be centered around an ill-advised trade,” he said.

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