U.S. President Joe Biden and his team of negotiators have put out a "solid plan" to return Brittney Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan home from Russia, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Wednesday.
Russian government media outlets have earlier suggested a trade involving Griner and convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, generating rumors that the Kremlin's favored target was the so-called "Merchant of Death."
Blinken refused to disclose details of the potential arrangement with Russia, but he has been at the top of the Kremlin's prisoner swap want list for years.
CNN reported on Wednesday that Biden has just endorsed a plan to trade Bout for Whelan and Griner, which has been under consideration since the beginning of the year.
Blinken disclosed at a Wednesday afternoon Department of State news conference that the U.S. informed Russia of its offer for Griner and Whelan "weeks ago."
Moscow officials have stated openly that they will not negotiate with the United States on Griner until her criminal trial concludes.
According to the US State secretary, he will "personally follow up" with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in an effort to secure the release of Griner and Whelan.
This would be Blinken's first conversation with his Kremlin counterpart since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, but the Secretary of State claimed there is value in "transmitting clear, direct messages to the Russians on vital issues."
The possibility of a prisoner exchange was revealed on the same day that Griner testified in a Russian court and argued for a moderate sentence.
Griner did not refute the fact that she took vape cartridges containing hash oil into Russia, but she said it was an accident caused by her haste in packing for her travel to Moscow.
Since February 17, Griner has been in Russian detention and faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted of drug smuggling allegations. Former Marine Whelan is currently serving a 16-year sentence on spurious espionage accusations, according to the United States.
Despite the fact that the State Department has deemed Griner and Whelan to be wrongfully held and designated their release as a top priority, there is a drawback to negotiating a settlement to send them home.
As Blinken himself admitted, a high-profile prisoner exchange could encourage the Russians to kidnap additional Americans and encourage other rogue regimes to do the same.