griner whelan could be released from russia this year ex ambassador

Former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson is seen following the release of American journalist Danny Fenster last November from Myanmar. Richardson on Sunday said he believes that Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan could be released from Russia this year.
via Associated Press

Former Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson said Sunday that after meeting with senior Russian officials he believes Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan could potentially be released from Russia by the end of the year.

“I am cautiously optimistic. I think it’s going to be a two-for-two,” he said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Richardson’s optimism, he said, follows him recently traveling to Moscow to discuss their release, along with the release of others detained, on behalf of his private humanitarian foundation. He declined to specify who he met with, only saying that the individuals are close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I hate making predictions, but yes,” he told host Jake Tapper when asked if Griner and Whelan could be released by the end of the year.

Griner, an all-star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, has been held in Russia since February on drug charges. Whelan, a Marine veteran from Michigan, has been held since 2018 on espionage charges.

Whelan has maintained his innocence, insisting that he was set up by a friend while visiting Moscow for a friend’s wedding. Griner was arrested after she was found carrying cannabis oil in her luggage, something she has said was an accident.

The U.S. has declared both Americans as wrongfully detained.

Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan are seen in Russia, with Whelan holding a sign that says "Sham trial" during a court appearance.

Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan are seen in Russia, with Whelan holding a sign that says “Sham trial” during a court appearance.
via Getty

Richardson, who has been working as an emissary in hostage negotiations independent of the U.S., said he will continue his humanitarian work regardless of some pushback from the federal government. White House national security spokesman John Kirby last month told Tapper that “the appropriate way” to secure Griner and Whelan’s release is through “government channels” and that U.S. citizens should not be going to Russia.

Richardson said Sunday that he agrees that prisoner releases should be negotiated by the federal government but that “there are a lot of nervous Nellies” when it comes to his work.

“Look at my track record over 30 years,” he said, after citing his past work helping to secure the release of Americans Trevor Reed and Danny Fenster. “I’m going to continue these efforts,” he said, noting that there are dozens of other Americans who are considered wrongfully detained across the world.

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