The Biden administration believes Russia will be open to discussing the release of Paul Whelan, the US Marine who was not freed with WNBA star Brittney Griner, because “they have things they want in this world,” according to a senior administration official.
Russia refused what the US offered to release Whelan, who has been imprisoned on espionage charges since 2018, but apparently knows to keep the conversation going if they want to reach an agreement on other important issues, the official told CNN.
“We have shown an openness to talk about that which is actually available to us and gotten only in response a demand for something that was not available to us,” the official said.
Shortly after Brittney Griner landed in Texas on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said more prisioner exchanges between the two countries could be a possibility.
Putin said “everything is possible” when asked about future swaps, noting “compromises have been found” in order to exchange the Phoenix mercury star for arms dealer Viktor Bout.
“We aren’t refusing to continue this work in the future,” Putin added.
“Whether this could set stage for a dialogue with the US is a separate issue,” the Russian strongman said. “We didn’t set the task to move from those talks to something else, but they do create a certain atmosphere.”
On Thursday, Whelan, 53, said he didn’t understand why he was still being held in a Russian penal colony while Griner was headed back to American soil.
The American basketball star was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after Russian authorities found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her suitcase.
Griner, who insisted she packed the cannabis oil inadvertently, pleaded guilty to drug charges and was sentenced to nine years in a forced labor camp in Mordovia.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up,” he said.
President Biden insisted on Thursday that the swap “was not a choice of which American to bring home.”
“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan. We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release,” he added.
The Biden administration had initially proposed a deal to Russia that would release both Griner and Whelan, for Russia to insist on a one-for-one deal.