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U.S. seeking to swap Russian arms dealer for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan

Brittney Griner

The U.S. government has proposed to Russia that it release detained Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan in exchange for imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, two sources familiar with the matter confirmed to NBC News.

Griner, a WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist, has been held in Russia since February, and Whelan, a corporate executive, has been detained in the country since 2018.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the Biden administration had made a “substantial” offer to Russia to facilitate the release of Griner and Whelan, but he did not disclose further details about the proposal.

CNN reported earlier Wednesday that the Biden administration offered to swap Bout for Griner and Whelan.

Blinken laid out his plans to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days at a news briefing Wednesday.

“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” Blinken said.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner sits in a cage in a courtroom before a hearing Wednesday in Khimki, Russia.Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

“Our governments have 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,” he added.

Blinken said it would be the first time he has spoken with his Russian counterpart since the war in Ukraine erupted in February.

The Biden administration faces growing calls to do more to secure the release of the two Americans, who U.S. officials say have been wrongfully detained.

Griner, 31, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil, which is prohibited in Russia, in her luggage. She pleaded guilty this month.

Griner testified in a Russian court Wednesday that she did not intend to break the law.

Whelan was convicted of espionage in a Russian court about two years ago. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

A senior administration official said a high-level U.S. official reached out to the families of Whelan and Griner ahead of Blinken’s remarks Wednesday. The high-level official will have conversations with the families on Wednesday and Thursday, the source said.

Asked about the timing of Blinken’s announcement at a White House briefing later Wednesday, John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said, “We think making it clear that there is an actual…

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