Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson predicts U.S. citizens Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, who are both imprisoned in Russia, will be released in a two-for-two prisoner swap.
The Hill reports that Richardson made the comments on Griner’s release on ABC‘s This Week. “I’m optimistic. I think she’s going to be free. There’s going to be a prisoner swap, though, and I think it’ll be two-for-two, involving Paul Whelan. We can’t forget him.”
Griner, who has been imprisoned in Russia since February on drug possession charges, was sentenced in a Russian court to nine years in a penal colony after pleading guilty to the charges. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, is serving his third year of a 16-year prison sentence on spying charges, which Whelan and the U.S. have denied.
Richardson added that his foundation, The Richardson Center, is involved in discussions concerning the release of three other Americans currently held by Russia. Last month, the Biden administration floated the idea of exchanging Griner and Whelan for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is infamously known as the “Merchant of Death.”
President Biden said Friday that he’s hopeful about Griner’s situation but declined to say if there were any developments in their attempt to free Griner. Richardson commended Biden and his administration for considering the exchange with Bout.
However, he would have done it quietly.
“Our objective should be, despite prisoner exchanges that are not popular, to bring American hostages home. Some of these prisoner exchanges are not good. The optics are not good. But we have to do it sometimes,” Richardson told The Hill.
Griner was arrested while traveling for her team UMMC Ekaterinburg, which she played for in the WNBA’s off-season. Many WNBA players play overseas in order to supplement their WNBA salary.
Griner’s Phoenix Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi sat out the 2015 WNBA season after UMMC Ekaterinburg paid her $1.5 million to take off the winter. Had she played in the WNBA that season, Taurasi would’ve made $107,000.