Shortly after Brittney Griner landed in Texas early Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said more prisoner exchanges are possible between the two countries.
Putin said “everything is possible” when asked about future swaps, noting that “compromises have been found” to clear the exchange of the WNBA star for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout.
“We aren’t refusing to continue this work in the future,” the Russian strongman added after a summit in Kyrgyzstan.
“Whether this could set stage for a dialogue with the U.S. is a separate issue,” the leader said. “We didn’t set the task to move from those talks to something else, but they do create a certain atmosphere.”
Despite securing Griner’s release, the US failed to win freedom for former US Marine Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive who has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on trumped-up espionage charges.
On Thursday, Whelan said, “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting” in a Russian penal colony while Griner was on her way home.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up,” the 53-year-old told CNN in a phone interview.
“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” he added. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was Russian and American intelligence agencies that agreed to exchange Bout for Griner. The deal has been roundly criticized in America as the Biden team getting outplayed by their Russian counterparts.
“It has no impact on the overall state of bilateral ties that looks sad,” Peskov said in televised remarks, adding that “special services may continue their work if necessary.”
Bout, known as “The Merchant of Death,” had been in US custody since 2008, when a sting operation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration nailed him in Thailand.
Bout said he was still struggling to control his emotions after his release and accused the West of trying to destroy Russia.
“The West believes that it has failed to finish us off when the Soviet Union began to collapse,” he said. “And our efforts to live independently, be an independent power is a shock to them.”
Early Friday morning, a corporate jet carrying Griner landed in San Antonio and was whisked off for a medical evaluation at Brooke Armey Medical Center.
With Post Wires