Pressure to free WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian detention may also pay off for a southeast Michigan man imprisoned there since 2018.
Paul Whelan, a Novi resident convicted of spying, is part of a prisoner-swap deal the Biden administration is offering to the Russian government: Whelan and Griner for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a sentence in a U.S. federal prison since his 2012 conviction.
(Secretary of State Antony) Blinken also said he had requested to speak with his Kremlin counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, for the first time since before Russia invaded Ukraine five months ago, in part to seek an answer to the offer.
The U.S. government hasn't previously publicized any actions or offers it has made to get Russia to release Griner or Whelan, who has been in custody in Russia for 3.5 years and is serving a 16-year sentence of hard labor. Griner's arrest on drug charges dates to February, and her trial is ongoing.
Whelan's family has been critical of the attention the Biden administration has paid to the Griner case, saying they were "astonished" that Biden reached out to Griner's family, but had made what they considered an inadequate effort to free Whelan. Biden later called family members to discuss the case.
Whelan was arrested in 2018 came after he took a flash drive from a Russian friend during a visit to Moscow. He said he thought it contained photos, but it had the names of members of the Russian Federal Security Service. He was convicted of espionage.
Bout, the arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death," is said to have been the inspiration for Viktor Orlov, the fictional character at the center of the film "Lord of War," and played by Nicolas Cage.