MOSCOW – An exhibit of prison artifacts from Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who spent 25 years in the United States and the focus of speculation about a prisoner swap that could free WNBA star Brittney Griner, opened Tuesday in Russia’s upper house of parliament.
The exhibition at the Federation Council underscores Russia’s strong interest in freeing Bout, who Russian officials say is a “businessman” who was unjustly arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison but described abroad as a ruthless “merchant of death.”
Russia has campaigned for his release since his arrest in Thailand in 2008 and subsequent conviction on terrorism charges for allegedly trying to sell up to $20 million in weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, to shoot down US helicopters.
The Associated Press and other news organizations reported that Washington had offered to exchange Bout for Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in August after cartridges laced with cannabis oil were found in his luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February. to do
The US State Department declared Griner “unlawfully detained”. As a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, Griner is one of the most prominent female athletes in the US, and her case has put a lot of pressure on White. House to free her.
US President Joe Biden said last week that he hoped Russian President Vladimir Putin would be more willing to release Griner now that the US midterm elections are underway.
He spoke hours after Griner’s defense attorneys revealed he had been sent to one of Russia’s notorious prison colonies after a court rejected his appeal. Griner claims he used the vape cartridges to treat pain and that they were only in his luggage due to a hasty packing trip to Russia where he played for a team in Yekaterinburg during the offseason.
There has been no progress in the talks, which Russian officials insist must be kept out of the public eye. According to reports, Washington is also seeking the release of former US Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving 16 years in prison for espionage.
At the art show, whose works included a technical portrait of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and a sentimental picture of a kitten, Grigory Karasin, chairman of the upper house’s international relations committee, promised that “Russian diplomats will do everything to get him back. to the homeland as soon as possible. This is not an easy task, but we will continue our efforts.”
Alla, Bout’s wife, said on the show that she had not discussed with her husband the request for presidential pardon, but all avenues were used to appeal his sentence.
Follow AP coverage of Brittney Griner at https://apnews.com/hub/brittney-griner