A former U.S. ambassador the to UN, Bill Richardson, said on Sunday, 0ct. 9 that he is “cautiously optimistic” that a deal will be reached to release Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, who are currently imprisoned in Russia.
The former Democrat governor of New Mexico, who founded a centre that works on behalf of hostages and political prisoners, said he hoped the pair would be released by the end of the year.
Accused of being a spy, former marine Paul Whelan was arrested in Russia on Dec. 28, 2018, and is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence.
Whelan’s twin brother David said Paul was only in Moscow to attend the wedding of a friend and fellow former marine.
With Whelan also being a British passport holder, In January 2019, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We don’t agree with individuals being used in diplomatic chess games… We are all extremely worried about him and his family.
“Brittney Griner, a professional basketball player from Houston, Texas, was arrested in Russia on drugs charges in February 2022, shortly before Moscow launched its illegal invasion of Ukraine.”
Griner was detained at an airport in Russia after allegedly being caught carrying vaporiser cartridges containing less than a gram of hash oil – a substance banned in Russia. She has been sentenced to nine years in prison.
The following month, the U.S. State Department stated they had concluded Griner was being “wrongfully detained”, while some American politicians claimed she was being held as a “political pawn”. In September, Bill Richardson and his team travelled to Moscow to engage in a series of meetings with Russian officials to negotiate the release of both American citizens, and continues to liaise with their family members and the White House.
Asked by CNN presenter Jake Tapper on Sunday, Oct. 9 if he believes Griner and Whelan would be released by the end of the year, Richardson said: “I do think so. Now, I hate making predictions, but yes.”
“All I can say is that the Biden administration is working hard on it,” he added. “So am I. We coordinate, but not always agree on every tactical decision. But I’m not going to interfere in their process. I’m just giving you my assessment after two visits to Russia on behalf of American hostages.”
Last month, President Joe Biden met with the families of both detainees, with a White House statement released shortly after stating Biden informed them of his administration’s “continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely.”
“The president appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and acknowledged that every minute they are being held is a minute too long,” the statement added.
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