US could do ‘2-for-2’ prisoner swap to get Griner, Whelan out of Russia: ex-ambassador
Basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan will hopefully be released from Russia in a “two-for-two” prisoner swap, the former US ambassador to the US said on Sunday. UN, Bill Richardson.
“My view is optimistic, I think she’s going to be free. There’s going to be a prisoner swap – I think it’s going to be two for two. I can’t forget Paul Whelan,” said Richardson, who is an outside adviser involved in Griner’s case, said in an exclusive interview with ABC’s “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos.
Griner has been detained since February and was sentenced last week to nine years in prison after being found guilty of drug charges by a Moscow region court. she said she accidentally traveled with vaping cartridges containing hash oil.
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Whelan, who worked in corporate security after the Marines, was convicted of espionage – which he and the United States deny.
Late last month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed the administration had made a “substantial offer” to release Griner and Whelan, which sources told ABC News included releasing the famed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States
Richardson said Sunday he didn’t entirely agree with the Biden administration’s messaging strategy. “I wouldn’t have gone public as much as they did,” he said.
But, he said, sometimes comments about prisoner negotiations are made strategically when talks get bogged down: “You want to drop a little bombshell, and I think that’s what they did.
Richardson described himself as a “catalyst” working on Griner’s case, along with other inmates. “I spoke to the Russians. I spoke to the White House,” he said, though he wouldn’t elaborate on his communications.
The founder of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement – which “promotes peace and dialogue around the world”, according to the center’s website – Richardson recently helped free American journalist Danny Fenster in Myanmar, he said. declared. He was also involved in helping to free ex-Marine Trevor Reed, who was freed by Russia in April in another prisoner exchange.
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Stephanopoulos asked Richardson why, in its comments on Griner and Whelan, the White House publicly omitted Marc Fogel, an American educator detained in Russia since August 2021.
“He faces jail time right now. His offense was similar to Brittney Griner’s. Shouldn’t he be included in that?” asked Stephanopoulos.
“All those wrongfully detained must return home. And our goal should be, despite the unpopular prisoner exchanges, to bring American hostages home,” Richardson said. “Some of these prisoner swaps aren’t good. They don’t – the optics aren’t good. But we have to do it sometimes.”
Stephanopoulos asked if such exchanges would “encourage America’s adversaries to detain more Americans”?
“There’s no data to support that,” Richardson said. He cited the case of Fenster: “All they wanted was a photo op. So the data does not confirm that prisoner exchanges are still happening. Yes, they are increasing, especially with countries like Iran, Venezuela, Russia. But as nasty as they are, we have to bring the American hostages home.”
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Blinken said in late July that he had spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to try to push the negotiations forward.
Richardson on Sunday praised Lavrov’s role in the matter.
“Lavrov, he and I were ambassadors to the UN together at the same time,” Richardson said. “And I’m happy that he’s pragmatic, that he’s kind of responsible and that he sent a good signal. I think the negotiations are going to be undertaken.”
US could do ‘2-for-2’ prisoner swap to get Griner and Whelan out of Russia: Former ambassador originally appeared on abcnews.go.com