Russian diplomat Alexander Darchiev, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Department for North America, has admitted for the first time contacts with the United States to exchange Viktor Bout, convicted in the US for arms trafficking, for basketball player Brittney Griner, convicted in Russia for drug possession and trafficking, before showing some optimism for the development of the negotiations.
In an interview with the Russian agency Tass, the media outlet explicitly asks Darchiev about the situation of Bout and Griner, as well as of former US Marine Paul Whelan, also convicted in Russia, albeit on espionage charges.
“We are taking into account all these people you are naming,” Darchiev responds to the question. “Russia has been pursuing Viktor Bout’s release for a long time, but we should leave the details to the professionals, who act on the principle of ‘do no harm,'” he explains.
For weeks now Russia has been silent on the details of these possible exchanges and has instead chided the United States for what it described as a “megaphone policy” in commenting in public on the status of negotiations, at a time when relations between the two countries are at historic lows due to the war in Ukraine.
Darchiev has nevertheless recalled that “the talks concern a very sensitive issue through the channels chosen by our respective presidents” in what he once again described as “quiet diplomacy that is still going on and will bear fruit if, of course, Washington refrains from indulging in propaganda.”
Other Russian sources under anonymity consulted by Bloomberg mention additional names in future exchanges such as former Russian agent Vadim Krasikov, convicted in Germany for murder in 2021 or Vladislav Klyushin, an individual close to the Kremlin extradited from Switzerland to the United States on insider trading charges.
The latter is of great importance to Russia as he has information on the computer hacking of the Democratic Party servers during the 2016 presidential election, again according to sources close to the Kremlin.