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US, Russia agree prisoner exchange, who could be part?
3 days ago
(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on 28 July, 2022 shows photo taken on 16 February, 2010 Russian Viktor Bout, the alleged arms dealer, looks on while standing in a cell at the Criminal Court in Bangkok. (FILES) In this file photo taken on 27 July, 2022 US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner sits inside a defendants’ cage before a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow. (FILES) In this file photo taken on 22 January, 2019 Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia, stands inside a defendants’ cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow. – A Russian arms trafficker who is serving a 25-year jail term in the United States knows nothing about a possible exchange with two US prisoners in Russia, his wife said. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on 27 July, 2022 that Washington had made a “substantial proposal” to Moscow to free basketball star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan. He declined to confirm reports that the United States was offering to trade them for convicted trafficker Victor Bout. Bout, 55, is the highest-profile Russian prisoner serving time in the US and inspired the 2005 arms smuggling movie “Lord of War” starring Nicholas Cage.He was dubbed the “Merchant of Death” by former British minister Peter Hain for supplying weapons to war-torn Angola and Liberia. Photo: various sources / AFP

Moscow and Washington have been in talks about a new prisoner exchange, in a rare moment of dialogue with tensions soaring over Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

A Russian arms dealer, a former teacher and a US basketball star are among the potential candidates for the swap.

US basketball star Brittney Griner is on trial in Russia after she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possessing vape cartridges with cannabis oil. The arrest came just days before Moscow launched its offensive in Ukraine on 24 February.

She said it was prescribed by a US doctor to relieve pain from her many injuries.

The 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury player came to Russia to play basketball for a club in Russia’s Yekaterinburg during the off-season.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist and Women’s NBA champion was charged with drug smuggling and Russian prosecutors requested a sentence of nine and a half years.

ALSO READ: Russia extends drug detention of US basketball star Griner

Former US marine Paul Whelan, 52, was arrested in December 2018 and accused by Russian security services of spying.

He was detained on a visit to Moscow to attend a wedding when he took a USB drive from an acquaintance, thinking it contained holiday photographs.

The former security official at a vehicle parts company — who also has British, Canadian and Irish passports — was sentenced to 16 years on espionage charges in June 2020.

During his closed-door trial, Whelan insisted he was innocent.

A teacher at an international school in Moscow, US citizen Marc Fogel was in June sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of “large-scale” cannabis trafficking.

Russian customs officers said they found marijuana and hash oil in Fogel’s luggage when he arrived from New York at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

Fogel said the marijuana was prescribed in the United States for medical purposes after a spinal operation.

Russia has not made the use of cannabis legal for medicinal purposes.

Russian officials said Fogel was earlier employed by the US embassy in Moscow and benefitted from diplomatic immunity until May 2021.

Russian arms trafficker Victor Bout was in 2012 sentenced to 25 years in a US jail after he was accused of arming rebels in some of the world’s bloodiest conflicts.

The 55-year-old is considered the highest-profile Russian imprisoned in the United States.

The former Soviet air force officer and polyglot was arrested in Thailand in 2008 during a sting operation in which US agents posed as Columbia’s FARC rebels seeking weapons.

He inspired the 2005 arms smuggling movie “Lord of War” starring Nicholas Cage and was dubbed “Merchant of Death” by former British minister Peter Hain for supplying weapons to war-torn Angola and Liberia.