The United States has made “a substantial offer” to Moscow to bring home U.S. citizens detained in Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, adding that he would be pressing his Russian counterpart in a planned conversation in the coming days to respond to the offer.
Speaking at a news conference at the U.S. State Department, Blinken said Washington offered Moscow a deal to bring home WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan weeks ago and that he hoped to advance the process when he speaks with Lavrov.
“There was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release. 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,” Blinken said.
He declined to say what the United States was offering in return. CNN reported that Washington was willing to exchange Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a prison sentence in the United States, as part of a deal to secure the release of the two Americans.
The proposal comes amid growing pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden from families of hostages and detainees, most recently in the case of two-time Olympic medalist Griner, who has been held in Russia since February and is on trial on drug charges.
Whelan was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison in Russia, accused of spying. He denied spying and said he was set up in a sting operation. Washington demanded his release.
The plight of American detainees has gained visibility after Griner’s arrest and the recent release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap with Russia at a time when U.S. relations with Moscow are at their worst in decades over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Reed was freed after three years of detention as part of a prisoner swap with Russia. Biden commuted the U.S. prison sentence of Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.