On the one hand, there is talk of Russian arms dealer Viktor But, who has been serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US since 2012 for illegal trade, and whose “career” served as the subject of a Hollywood film Merchant of Death from 2005 starring Nicolas Cage.
The Americans would like Moscow to give them elite basketball player Brittney Griner for him. She is facing legal proceedings in Russia after they discovered hash oil cartridges for electronic cigarettes during a check at the Sheremetyevo airport. Former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage in Russia in 2020, should also be part of the “barter trade” with Griner.
Debates surrounding Buta’s possible exchange have been going on in the American media for a long time. According to CNN and its sources, the US government has now, after months of internal debate, actually decided to do so.
However, the decision was not born smoothly. “During months of internal discussions, Justice Department officials initially opposed the ‘trafficking’ of Buto. However, they eventually acknowledged that the exchange had the support of the State Department and the White House, including President Joe Biden,” CNN said, citing its sources. The head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, has already announced that he intends to talk to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, by phone in the coming days about the exchange plan. Russia has not yet commented on the matter.
The basketball player defends herself
Grinerová is a two-time Olympic champion and world champion, as well as a champion of the WNBA overseas league and a four-time winner of the Euroleague with Yekaterinburg. The police arrested the basketball player on February 17 this year. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison for drug possession and trafficking.
The basketball player herself said before the court in Moscow this week that she has been using cannabis for a long time on the recommendation of a doctor as a means of relieving chronic pain. “I would like to make a confession, your honor. But it wasn’t the intention. I didn’t want to break the law,” Reuters quoted her as saying in court. She also stated that she does not know how the drug ended up in her luggage, she probably packed it by mistake when she was hastily preparing to leave the USA for the continuation of the season in Russia, where she is a long-time supporter of the big club from Yekaterinburg.
Grinerová also complained in court about her treatment during the arrest, she said she did not have access to a lawyer, according to her the interpreter translated only a fraction of her statements during the interrogation, her rights were not explained to her.
A former US Marine, Whelan was arrested at a Moscow hotel in December 2018, allegedly while receiving spy material. According to his defense attorneys, however, he believed that the USB flash drive he took contained pictures from his vacation in Russia. It was said to be a prepared trap.
A businessman who (probably) knows a lot
And why would Russia be interested in handing over But in a possible exchange? According to the words of CIA chief William Burns, the Russian businessman likes to “sneer”, so by transferring him from overseas, Moscow could achieve that he will no longer reveal anything sensitive to the Americans (although the fact is that he has been in prison for almost 10 years).
“I assume that through But, the Russians as a state circumvented the arms embargo and dealt with other denied and covert activities. He probably knows a lot,” Jan Šír, an expert from Charles University who specializes in Russia, told LN about the case of the “merchant of death”.
But, a former lieutenant in the Soviet army, was arrested in Thailand in 2008, in which the Thai police participated in addition to the American drug agency DEA. They pretended to be members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and wanted to buy surface-to-air missiles and 5,000 AK-47 rifles from Buto. But was convicted of illegal arms sales. However, according to many, he also took part in their smuggling, already since the 90s of the last century. It was supposed to deliver them to dictators and to conflict zones in Africa, South America and the Middle East.