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Biden makes offer to Russia for release of Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan

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US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing on the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on July 27, 2022. 

Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The USA has made a proposal to the Russian government for the discharge of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.

“We put a considerable proposal on the table weeks ago,” Blinken told reporters on the State Department.

The nation’s top diplomat also said that he would discuss the offer with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “in the approaching days.”

“Our government has communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal and I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and I hope, move us toward a resolution,” Blinken said.

Blinken declined to share additional details concerning the U.S. offer when pressed by reporters.

“In the case of our efforts to secure the return home of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner you understand that I can not and won’t get into any of the main points of what we proposed to the Russians over the course of so many weeks,” he said.

Blinken also declined to verify if the U.S. offer involved a prisoner swap of Griner and Whelan for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, as CNN reported. Bout is currently serving a 25-year U.S. prison sentence.

The 31-year-old Griner, who plays skilled basketball in Russia through the WNBA offseason, was arrested in February at a Russian airport on accusations that she was smuggling hashish oil. If she is convicted, the charge could carry a penalty of as much as 10 years in prison.

Griner has since pleaded guilty.

“I’m terrified I is perhaps here without end,” the Olympian wrote in a letter to Biden earlier this month, asking for his direct assistance along with her case.

On the heels of the letter, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with the WNBA star’s wife Cherelle Griner.

Biden reassured her wife that he’s working to secure Griner’s release as soon as possible, in response to a White House readout of the decision. He also said on the decision that he’s working on the discharge of Whelan, who’s serving a 16-year sentence in Russia.

US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner stands inside a defendants’ cage before a hearing on the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on July 26, 2022. 

Alexander Zemlianichenko | AFP | Getty Images

Last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that may expand the administration’s available tools to discourage hostage-taking and the wrongful detention of U.S. nationals.

The manager order, generally known as “Bolstering Efforts to Bring Hostages and Wrongfully Detained United States Nationals Home,” will authorize the imposition of economic sanctions and visa bans on people involved in hostage-taking.

“This executive order reflects the administration’s commitment not simply to the problems generally but to the families particularly and it has been informed by the federal government’s regular engagements with them,” said a senior Biden administration official on July 19, who spoke on condition of anonymity to be able to share details concerning the recent executive order.

In April, Russia agreed to release former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner exchange with the US.

Reed was accused of assaulting a Russian officer and detained by authorities there in 2019. He was later sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. Reed and his family have maintained his innocence and the U.S. government described him as unjustly imprisoned.

For Reed’s release, Biden agreed to free Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the US.

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