(NewsNation) — A top Russian diplomat says the country is in discussions with U.S. officials about the exchange of a notorious arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death” for basketball player Brittney Griner.
The WNBA star was arrested at a Moscow airport in February after vape cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis oil were found in her luggage.
Family and friends of the All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist have been fighting for her release from day one.
Griner was charged with smuggling drugs and sentenced to nine years in prison. President Joe Biden has said he was “hopeful” Russia would free the basketball star.
Russia has expressed guarded optimism about talks with the U.S. that include an exchange for Viktor Bout. He is considered by U.S. intelligence officials to be the most prominent arms dealer of the last 30 years.
Bout’s notoriety has earned him the nickname the “Merchant of Death.” He shot to infamy after supplying arms for conflicts in Africa and Latin America. He was arrested in 2008 and charged with providing weapons in some of the world’s worst conflicts.
In 2012, Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison. U.S. officials believe Russia wants him back because they are motivated by Bout’s links with military intelligence.
Russian state media has speculated for months that Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian prison on espionage charges, could be swapped for Bout.
Russian officials have said “quiet diplomacy should bear fruit.”