Moscow reveals details of high-profile prisoner swap with US
The Kremlin is not ruling out further prisoner swaps with the US, Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists on Friday. Contacts between the security services of the two nations are “ongoing,” Putin said, adding that any further such initiatives would be an outcome of these negotiations.
The president was speaking in the wake of a prisoner swap that saw women’s basketball star Brittney Griner exchanged for jailed Russian businessman Viktor Bout on Thursday. According to Putin, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) had engaged in the talks on the swap deal on Russia’s behalf.
“Are further prisoner exchanges possible? Everything is possible,” Putin said, talking to a press conference at a Eurasian Economic Union summit in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.
“Contacts are ongoing,” the Russian leader said, adding that Russian and American security services have never stopped talking to each other. Swapping Griner for Bout has “come as a result of the talks and the search for a compromise,” Putin said, adding that “this time, a compromise was reached.” Russia “is not giving up on continuing this work in the future,” the president said.
Griner was exchanged for Bout in Abu Dhabi, UAE, following talks between Moscow and Washington and months of speculation surrounding the deal. The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury in her homeland, was sentenced to nine years behind bars in Russia in August on drug charges after banned cannabis vape oil cartridges were found in her luggage at a Moscow airport. The 32-year-old was traveling to play in the Russian league during the WNBA off-season.
Bout had spent more than 14 years behind bars, including 12 years in US prisons, as part of a 25-year sentence stemming from arms-trafficking charges – which he has always denied. The businessman was taken into custody in 2008 after a sting operation in Thailand and in 2012 was convicted by a US court for illegal arms dealing. After his arrival in Russia, Bout told RT he had merely become caught up in the gears of geopolitics.
The swap deal faced criticism from some US politicians, including a former national security adviser, John Bolton, and a former US president, Donald Trump. The critics said it showed Washington’s weakness and pointed to the fact that a former US Marine, Paul Whelan, who was allegedly touted as part of the deal, remained in a Russian prison. Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted of espionage in 2020.