The United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, announced Wednesday that Washington has made a “substantial proposal” to Moscow for the release of two Americans – security consultant Paul Whelan and WNBA star Brittney Griner – jailed in Russia. 

What are the details of the proposal? 

There have been rumours of a potential prisoner swap involving Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, aka the “Merchant of Death,” who’s currently held in Illinois, serving a 25-year jail term for conspiracy to kill American citizens and sale of weapons to terrorists. This has, however, generated concern from some observers. 

A Bout’s deal would mean handing over a notorious criminal whom the United States had chased for years before the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) finally caught him in a sophisticated sting operation. And according to a former FBI special agent, a potential exchange involving Bout “ups the ante quite a bit.” 

Even if it’s one person in exchange for two? According to the agent, “This isn’t a spy-for-a-spy-type deal like in the Cold War. This is a very bad person in terms of the harm he has caused the United States.” Bout’s release would suggest that holding Americans may result in significant concessions from the American government, but an exchange of this kind might be the only way to free Griner and Whelan. 

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