The U.S. government has offered Russia a prisoner swap in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for the alleged possession of cannabis. The Phoenix Mercury center is currently on trial and faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, has been held by Russia since 2018 on espionage charges.
The U.S. State Department considers both to be wrongfully detained.
Blinken did not provide details on the proposed deal, which was offered to Russia weeks ago. CNN, however, reported Wednesday that the Biden administration offered Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States, as part of the exchange.
The plan to offer Bout in a trade for Griner and Whelan had been discussed since earlier this year, and it has President Joe Biden’s support, CNN reported.
“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” a senior administration official told CNN. “We communicated that a number of weeks ago, in June.”
Blinken has requested a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, with the proposed prisoner swap as one of the planned topics of discussion.
Griner testified Wednesday at her trial. She pleaded guilty to the charges against her earlier this month, a recognition of the impossible odds she faces in Russian court and a strategy to help pave the way for a prisoner swap, according to ESPN.
Griner’s trial will need to conclude before any deal between the U.S. and Russian governments is finalized, CNN reported.