After five months in Russian custody, Brittney Griner may be a step closer to coming home.
The Biden administration has offered Russia a proposal to release Griner and jailed American Paul Whelan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.
“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” Blinken announced, according to the Associated Press. “Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal, and I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and, I hope, to move us toward a resolution.”
AP described the proposal as a “sharp reversal of previous policy.”
CNN, which broke the story about the proposal, said the administration offered to swap Whelan and Griner for convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who’s serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S.
Bout is known as the “Merchant of Death,” after his weapons sales reportedly fueled deadly conflicts around the world. He was the subject of the 2014 documentary The Notorious Mr. Bout.
Griner, a WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist, was detained at Moscow Airport on Feb. 17, after Russian officials said they found vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty to drug possession and smuggling charges earlier this month.
A lawyer for Griner told a Russian court the Phoenix Mercury player was prescribed medical cannabis by a doctor in the U.S. to treat chronic pain. Griner traveled to Russia to play in the off-season and make extra money.
Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen and former Marine, was arrested in December 2018 on espionage charges, which he and the U.S. government say are false. Whelan, who is described as a corporate security executive, was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 to a 16-year prison sentence.
The Biden administration has said Whelan and Griner were both “wrongfully detained.”