It seems that Russia’s blackmail attempts have proved successful – for the first time since the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the U.S. has expressed readiness for negotiations.
While Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is visiting Africa to seek support, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken intends to speak with Lavrov shortly. The main issue is the release of U.S. citizens Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, both currently detained in Russia. He also plans to discuss the recently signed agreement on the transit of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea.
According to CNN, the U.S. Administration wants to exchange Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner.
Bout is a Russian arms dealer. An entrepreneur and former Soviet military translator, he reportedly used his multiple air transport companies to smuggle weapons from Eastern Europe to Africa and the Middle East during the 1990s and early 2000s. He is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
Griner, a two-time U.S. Olympic basketball gold medalist, was detained in Russia in February this year for using medical cannabis, which is prohibited in the country. Griner has argued that she had a doctor’s prescription for the drug to treat pain from injuries sustained during her basketball career. Medical cannabis remains illegal in Russia, and Greiner faces up to 10 years imprisonment in a penal colony if convicted of drug trafficking.
In December 2018, Whelan was arrested in Moscow on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Lavrov is currently on official visits to Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, and the Republic of the Congo.
Experts and politicians fear a sharp aggravation of the world’s hunger problem due to the war in Ukraine and its consequences. Before the war, Ukraine and Russia were the leading global producers and exporters of grain. Many countries, especially North Africa, depend on their relatively cheap wheat.
According to British intelligence, Russia will likely try to use these visits to blame the West for the international food crisis and enlist the support of African states that have remained neutral over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Since 2014, Russia has made significant efforts to secure influence in Africa, with the Wagner group often used in the region, British intelligence said.
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