- Russia says it wants Bout back
- Griner was transferred to the Russian region of Mordovia
- Russia considers the results “good”.
LONDON, Nov 18 (Reuters) – Russia said on Friday it hoped to swap prisoners with the United States for the return of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death”, in a swap that could include US basketball. star Brittney Griner.
In the midst of the deadliest war in Europe since World War II, Russia and the United States are exploring a deal that could see people imprisoned in America, including Griner, return to the United States to replace Bout.
“I want to hope that hope will not only exist but be strengthened, and that the time will come when we will find a concrete agreement,” Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Sergei Ryabkov said to Interfax.
“Americans are showing foreign affairs, we are working professionally through a special system designed for this,” said Ryabkov. “Viktor Bout is one of the candidates, and we are expecting a good result.”
For the two former Cold War foes, now locked in the deadliest conflict since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the exchange will mark one of the most dramatic prisoner exchanges in their history.
The clear comments of Ryabkov, who is the head of the US Department of Foreign Affairs and arms control, in contrast to previous statements by Moscow that warned Washington not to try to engage in megaphone talks on the exchange of prisoners.
Possible replacements include Griner, who is facing nine years in prison in Russia after being convicted on drug charges, and Paul Whelan, who is serving 16 years in prison in Russia after being found guilty of espionage charges he denies.
BOUT FOR GRINER
Bout, known as the “merchant of death” and the “greatest punishment” for his arms embargo, was one of the world’s most wanted men before his arrest in 2008 on several charges related to arms smuggling.
For nearly 20 years, Bout was one of the world’s most prominent arms dealers, selling weapons to rogue states, terrorists and deadly weapons in Africa, Asia and South America.
But in 2008, Bout was caught in a US sting.
Bout was caught on camera agreeing to sell what appeared to be agents of the left-wing Colombian FARC guerrilla group to US agents 100 surface-to-air missiles, which they could use to kill US troops. Soon after, he was arrested by the Thai police.
Bout was tried on charges related to the FARC, which he denied, and in 2012 he was sentenced by a Manhattan court to 25 years in prison, the minimum possible sentence.
Since then, the Russian government has been desperate to get him back.
Griner has been transferred to a correctional facility in the Mordovia region, southeast of Moscow, his lawyers said on Thursday, confirming a Reuters report.
At his trial, Griner – who played basketball for the Russian national team during the US offseason – said he used marijuana to relieve a sports injury but did not intend to break the law. He told the court that he made a serious mistake in packing the cartridges in his bag.
Guy Faulconbridge reports, Edited by Mark Trevelyan
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