Former US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson predicted Sunday that US citizens Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, who are imprisoned in Russia, will be freed in a “two-for-two” prisoner swap with Moscow.
“I’m optimistic. I think she’s going to be free,” Richardson said of WNBA star Griner on ABC’s “This Week.”
“There’s gonna be a prisoner swap, though, and I think it’ll be two-for-two, involving Paul Whelan. We can’t forget him.”
Griner was sentenced last week to nine years in a penal colony for drug possession and smuggling, after pleading guilty to drug possession charges. Whelan, a former US Marine, is three years into a 16-year sentence on spying charges, which he and the US deny.
Richardson dodged questions about whether educator Marc Fogel, who is facing 14 years for drug possession and smuggling, would also be included in swap talks.
“All of these that are wrongfully detained need to come home,” Richardson said.
He added that his foundation, The Richardson Center, is involved in talks about the release of three other Americans held by Russia, but that he was a “catalyst” for what would ultimately be a government-to-government agreement.
The Biden administration reportedly floated a potential prisoner swap last month in which Griner and Whelan would be released in exchange for convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Officials have publicly confirmed that they offered an exchange but have not explicitly said if it involved Bout.
President Biden on Friday said he’s “hopeful” about Griner’s situation, though White House officials declined to say if there were specific developments that led him to feel that way.
Richardson on Sunday commended Biden for considering the exchange with Bout, though he said “I would have done it quietly.”
“Our objective should be, despite prisoner exchanges that are not popular, to bring American hostages home. Some of these prisoner exchanges are not good. The optics are not good. But we have to do it sometimes,” he said.