The fate of two Americans detained in Russia could depend on what the U.S. government decides to do with an imprisoned Russian arms dealer nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” whose wild exploits once inspired a Hollywood film starring Nicolas Cage.
The Kremlin has long pushed for Bout’s release, calling his conviction “unlawful.” In recent weeks, media reports in Russia have hinted that he could be swapped for WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.
Griner is facing drug charges stemming from her arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport in February. Whelan was arrested and charged with spying in 2018 — and has called the trial politically motivated.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the United States made a “substantial proposal” to Russia to secure the two Americans’ release — but declined to say whether Bout was part of the deal.
A lawyer for Bout told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that he could not comment on the reports of a possible exchange involving his client but that “this may soon change.”
In April, another U.S. prisoner held in Moscow — former Marine Trevor Reed — was released in exchange for a Russian convicted in the United States.
The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in an address to the nation on Sept. 21, framing the move as an attempt to defend Russian sovereignty against a West that seeks to use Ukraine as a tool to “divide and destroy Russia.” Follow our live updates here.
The fight: A successful Ukrainian counteroffensive has forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.
Annexation referendums: Staged referendums, which would be illegal under international law, are set to take place from Sept. 23 to 27 in the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies. Another staged referendum will be held by the Moscow-appointed administration in Kherson starting Friday.
Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.