Russia warms to U.S. prisoner swap for arms trader Bout

  • Russia claims it wants Bout back
  • Griner transferred to the Russian region of Mordovia
  • Russia is counting on a “positive” result

LONDON, Nov 18 (Reuters) – Russia said on Friday it hoped to reach a prisoner swap with the United States to return convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death”, in a swap that is likely to features American basketball star Brittney Griner.

Amid Europe’s deadliest war since World War II, Russia and the United States are exploring a deal that could see imprisoned Americans, including Greener, returned to the United States in exchange for Booth.

“I want to hope that the prospect not only remains, but also strengthens, and that the moment will come when we will get a concrete agreement,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Interfax.

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“The Americans show some external activity, we work professionally on a special channel designed for this,” said Ryabkov. “Victor Booth is among those being discussed and we are certainly counting on a positive outcome.”

For the two former Cold War foes, now grappling with the most serious confrontation since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the swap would mark one of the most extraordinary prisoner swaps in their history.

The apparently upbeat remarks by Ryabkov, the State Department’s top man for the Americas and arms control, contrasted with earlier statements by Moscow, which warned Washington against trying to engage in megaphone diplomacy over the prisoner swap.

The possible swap involves Greener, who faces nine years behind bars in Russia after being convicted on drug charges, and Paul Whalen, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia after being convicted of espionage charges he denies.

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FIGHT FOR GRAINER

Variously called the “merchant of death” and the “sanctions breaker” for his ability to circumvent arms embargoes, Bout was one of the world’s most wanted men before his arrest in 2008 on multiple arms-trafficking charges.

For nearly two decades, Booth was one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers, selling weapons to rogue states, rebel groups and murderous warlords in Africa, Asia and South America.

But in 2008, Booth was caught up in a complicated American action.

Booth was caught on camera agreeing to sell undercover American agents posing as representatives of the Colombian leftist FARC guerrillas 100 surface-to-air missiles that they would use to kill American soldiers. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested by the Thai police.

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Booth was tried on FARC-related charges, which he denied, and in 2012 was convicted and sentenced by a Manhattan court to 25 years in prison, the minimum possible sentence.

Since then, the Russian state has sought to reclaim it.

Griner has been moved to a penal colony in the Mordovia region, southeast of Moscow, her lawyers said on Thursday, confirming a Reuters report.

During the trial, Greiner, who played basketball for a Russian team in the United States in the off-season, said she used cannabis to relieve sports injuries but did not intend to break the law. She told the court she had made an honest mistake by packing the cartridges in her luggage.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Mark Trevelyan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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