The price Russia pays for releasing Britney Greiner may be a notorious arms dealer

For the first time since then Britney GreinerRussia, after being detained nearly three months ago, appears to have publicly indicated the price it is asking for its safe return, if multiple reports by Russian state media are to be believed.

Russia is eyeing to exchange a WNBA star in a prisoner exchange for notoriously convicted arms smuggler Victor Bout, Several Russian state-owned media reported on FridayCiting unnamed government sources.

US authorities said that Bout, whose exploits earned him the nickname “Merchant of Death”, inundated fierce conflicts in Africa and the Middle East with weapons. Arrested during a sting operation in Thailand in 2008, he was extradited to the United States and sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiracy to kill American citizens, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and aid to a terrorist organization.

After Bout’s arrest, the United States alleged that his Russian allies tried to prevent his extradition from Thailand to America by bribing key witnesses to give false testimony. Since his conviction in 2012, Bout has been at the top of Russia’s prisoner exchange wishlist, and has been repeatedly linked in Russian state media to potential swaps involving imprisoned Americans that never came to fruition.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Britney Greiner leaves a courtroom after a hearing, in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, May 13, 2022. Greiner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February after being found E-cigarette cartridges containing cannabis-derived oil in her luggage, which could carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.  (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Two-time WNBA Olympic gold medalist Britney Grenier leaves the courthouse after a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow on Friday. Greiner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested at Moscow airport in February after e-cigarette cartridges containing cannabis-derived oil, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, were found in her bag. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan visited the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow on Wednesday, but the State Department did not disclose what they discussed. A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on Yahoo Sports on Friday when asked if negotiations over Greiner’s release were ongoing and whether Russia was seeking a bot swap.

“Due to operational and privacy concerns, we are unable to discuss specifics,” the spokesperson said.

While One report by Russian state media Citing an unnamed source who described the prospect of a Greiner-for-Bout exchange as “possible,” experts in Russian diplomacy viewed it with skepticism. William Pomeranz, a Russian law professor and acting director of the Kennan Institute, told Yahoo Sports he interprets the reports as a signal that “Russia really wants to do this trade,” but cautioned that they give no indication of the United States’ willingness.

“This is Russia,” said Pomerans, “wouldn’t that be a great idea?” “This is not the United States saying they are interested. We have had other opportunities to get rid of Victor Bout in the past and we have not.”

Grenier has been behind bars since February 17 when she flew to Moscow airport and Russian customs officials allegedly found e-cigarette cartridges containing cannabis oil in their luggage. She is under investigation for a large-scale drug transport case and faces up to 10 years in a Russian prison if convicted.

Griner appeared at a hearing in a courtroom outside Moscow on Friday and Her pretrial detention has been extended for a month. Pictures captured at the hearing show Greiner leaving the courtroom with hands tied, an orange sweatshirt hoodie pulled over her head and her signature dreadlocks shots.

Last month, the United States and Russia completed a prisoner exchange despite deteriorating relations between the two countries. Trevor Reed, a former Marine who the US says was unjustly held in Russia for nearly three years, has returned home to Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted of drug smuggling.

Reade’s release leaves at least two Americans in Russia whom the United States classifies as being unjustly held: Greiner and Paul Whelan, another former Marine who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage. Their cases are now in the hands of the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which is focused on negotiating the release of American hostages and others considered unjustly held in foreign countries.

A 1-for-1 exchange for Griner might be particularly unpalatable to the United States if Russia insists on Bout in return. Butt is a more popular character than Yaroshenko, having inspired the character of Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film “Lord of War.” Bot’s history of arms smuggling also makes the allegations against Greiner seem insignificant by comparison.

Evelyn Farkas, a former Pentagon official, is hoping the Biden administration will explore all options to bring Grener and Whelan home, but she notes that there is a downside to the prisoner exchange.

“This is the kind of situation we want to avoid, because the Russians will continue to take Americans as commercial bait if we agree to such trade-offs,” said Farkas, executive director of the McCain Institute.