In particular, Moscow has its eyes turned towards a Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, detained across the Atlantic. Russia said on Friday it hoped for a prisoner swap with the United States. “I hope the prospect [d’un échange] is not only topical, but is getting stronger, and that the time will come when we will get a concrete agreement,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
He indicated that negotiations were taking place “in a professional manner”, via “a specially dedicated channel”. These statements come the day after the announcement of the transfer to a Russian penal colony of American basketball player Brittney Griner, arrested in Moscow and convicted of “drug trafficking”.
The basketball player and the “merchant of death”
Supporters of the 32-year-old basketball player denounce a political affair, accusing the Russian authorities of holding her hostage in the context of tensions between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine. Negotiations have been taking place for several months between Russia and the United States around an exchange involving Griner and other Americans detained by Moscow, which hopes for its part to recover Viktor Bout.
Nicknamed the “Merchant of Death”, Viktor Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States. His journey was one of the inspirations for the film “Lord of War” in which Nicolas Cage plays a cynical arms dealer.
Russia has repeatedly criticized the United States for making public statements about the prisoner swap negotiations, calling for them to be kept secret.
“For the moment, we have not found a common denominator, but it is undeniable that Viktor Bout is among those concerned by the discussions, and we hope for a positive outcome,” said Sergey Ryabkov.