Ex-Gov Bill Richardson Is Headed To Russia To Negotiate Griner & Whelan’s Release
Secret negotiations between the United States and Russia over the detention of both WNBA star Brittney Griner and Marine veteran Paul Whelan now appear in full swing, as former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is expected to travel to Russia in the coming weeks to seek their release.
Richardson has had a long track record representing families of US hostages and detainees abroad through his nonprofit Richardson Center, and in coordination with the US government. “(National Security Council) leadership are in touch with Bill Richardson. We appreciate his commitment to getting Americans home and are pursuing the release of Brittney and Paul through government channels,” NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson confirmed at the start of this week.
Mickey Bergman, executive director at the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, first revealed to ABC, “What I can say (and is publicly known) is both the Whelan and Griner families have asked us to help with the release of their loved ones.”
About two months into Griner’s detention, which began just before the Feb.24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US State Department changed her status to “wrongfully detained” – which allows the US government to open hostage negotiations.
A statement from Richardson, who recently played a key role in securing Trevor Reed’s release from Russian prison in April, included the following:
Richardson told CNN on Thursday following Griner’s plea, “We believe that any prisoner in a situation like this needs to do what they believe can help them survive the ordeal.”
“She is fighting for her life,” Richardson said, adding he “is working hard on trying to secure the safe return” of Griner and Whelan from Russia, but declined to give further details due to “ongoing efforts.”
Whelan, a former Marine, was arrested in December 2018 on espionage charges he vehemently denies. He was sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison in a trial US officials denounced as unfair.
Richardson was also the ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton administration, and has already long had extensive dealings with Russian officials and a large degree of success.
Griner’s case has received a lot of media attention, even as Paul Whelan’s family has struggled to get the Biden administration involved in his predicament as he serves out a lengthy prison sentence for what Whelan said was a “sham trial”.
The family of Marine veteran Paul Whelan was “astonished” after President Joe Biden called the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner but did not also call the Whelans. Both Whelan and Griner are imprisoned in Russia.https://t.co/gfPUpF6OdC
— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) July 9, 2022
As for Griner, her criminal trial began at the start of this month. She’s accused of drug smuggling, after less than a gram of cannabis oil was found in her baggage while arriving to a Moscow airport in February. The White House has accused Moscow of seeking to use her as a political pawn connected to the war in Ukraine. Richardson is expected to travel to Russia within the next two weeks, according to a source cited in ABC News.
Tue, 07/12/2022 – 19:05