Joe Biden offers to swap ‘Merchant of Death’ Russian arms dealer for two detained American

President Zelensky asked about Joe Biden by Piers Morgan

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Viktor Bout, a former Soviet military officer, is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States on charges of conspiring to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization. However, Bout has maintained he is innocent.

Sources in the Biden administration told CNN that the plan to trade Bout for Whelan and Griner received the backing of President Joe Biden after being under discussion since earlier this year.

“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.”

Known as the “Merchant of Death,” Bout is serving 25 years in a US prison after he was convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to kill Americans, providing aid to a terrorist organization, and other charges.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday that the US presented a “substantial proposal” to Moscow “weeks ago” for Whelan and Griner, who are classified as wrongfully detained.

Speaking at a press conference at the State Department, Blinken said Biden was “directly involved” and signed off on the proposal.

Blinken did not directly confirm Bout was part of the deal, saying he “can’t and won’t get into any of the details of what we proposed to the Russians over the course of so many weeks now.”

But he said: “In terms of the President, of course he was not only directly involved, he signs off on any proposal that we make, and certainly when it comes to Americans who are being arbitrarily detained abroad, including in this specific case.”

The news report claimed that Mr Biden’s support for the swap overrides opposition from the Department of Justice, which is generally against prisoner trades.

The official told the news agency that it was up to Russia to respond to the proposed swap, “yet at the same time that does not leave us passive, as we continue to communicate the offer at very senior levels.”

The official told CNN: “It takes two to tango. We start all negotiations to bring home Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained with a bad actor on the other side.

“We start all of these with somebody who has taken a human being American and treated them as a bargaining chip.

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“So, in some ways, it’s not surprising, even if it’s disheartening, when those same actors don’t necessarily respond directly to our offers, don’t engage constructively in negotiations.”

Mr Blinken said on Wednesday that he will soon meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the first time since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The families of Whelan, who has been held by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018, and WNBA star Griner, jailed in Moscow for drug possession since February, have urged the White House to secure their release, including via a prisoner exchange if necessary.

Griner, who pleaded guilty in early July but later said she unintentionally brought cannabis into Russia, testified in a Russian courtroom Wednesday as part of her ongoing trial on drug charges, for which she faces up to 10 years in prison.

It is understood that her trial will have to conclude prior to a deal being finalised, according to US officials familiar with the Russian judicial process and the inner workings of US-Russia negotiations.

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