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Russian officials on Thursday responded to reports from the Biden administration that a “substantial proposal” was offered to bring home WNBA player Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, claiming that no deal has been finalized.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a press conference on Wednesday that the Biden administration made the proposal weeks ago, but made no mention of a deal including Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” who several reports named as being a part of a potential prisoner swap.
Asked about the proposal during a press conference the following day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that prisoner swaps were typically negotiated discreetly behind the scenes.
“We know that such issues are discussed without any such release of information,” he said. “Normally, the public learns about it when the agreements are already implemented.”
Peskov emphasized that “no agreements have been finalized” and refused to provide further details.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said separately that while the Kremlin and U.S. officials have engaged in talks, “there has been no concrete result yet.”
“We proceed from the assumption that interests of both parties should be taken into account during the negotiations,” she said.
Rebekah Koffler, a Russian-born former U.S. intelligence officer and expert on Russia and Vladimir Putin, told Fox News Digital on Thursday that this back-and-forth between Russia and the Western media can make it difficult to “predict” what’s to come.
“It’s hard to predict now exactly the outcome of these negotiations because, on the one hand, the Russians want Viktor Bout back, as he is a former military intelligence officer with likely indirect ties to Putin himself,” she explained.
“On the other hand, with the counterproductive narrative that’s coming out of Washington — calling Putin a war criminal (even though he might deserve it), the Senate having approved a resolution yesterday, which aims to designate Russia a ‘sponsor of terrorism’ — and the overall crisis in the U.S.-Russian relations, Washington’s expectation that Russia will play ball with them is naive.”
She continued: “Putin knows that President Biden is under pressure to bring these Americans home, amid his domestic popularity dropping rapidly — he will almost certainly try to squeeze concessions from the Biden administration. Putin is in no hurry to accept Washington’s proposal.”
Griner pleaded guilty to a drug-smuggling charge earlier this month, adding that her “intent” was not to violate Russian law. The U.S. State Department has classified Griner as “wrongfully detained.” She acknowledged she had vape cartridges containing oils derived from cannabis with her but had no intention of breaking the law. She could face up to 10 years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.