Dark-thirty already this early-evening Thursday here in California’s Central Valley. Today was the opposite of forecasts, which does happen, as our outside was sunny this morning, but heavy fog in the afternoon — an exact reversal of what the local weather predictions had indicated earlier, a primarily regular routine. Fog in the AM, burned off by the sun in the PM.
All good as Leroy — my daughter’s Basset hound/greyhound — and I took our regular walk in the morning to some warm sunshine and were home well before that dreadful fog rolled in after lunch. Winter in the valley is fog time.
Of course, major news-cycle explosion today — WNBA star Brittney Griner released from a Russian jail in exchange for Viktor Bout, a reportedly horrible arms dealer, who was in a US prison. A lot of shit talk this afternoon about Griner’s situation, but Joe Biden made a good, but tough call. Reportedly, the deal was okayed last week.
Vlad Putin only wanted his gun guy, period (via CNN this afternoon):
Despite Biden’s attempts to link Griner’s case to that of Paul Whelan, a former US Marine arrested on espionage charges in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison two years later, it became plain recently that Putin would not budge.
“The choice was bringing Brittney Griner home right now, or bringing no one home right now,” one senior administration official said.
Griner is supposedly on her way to San Antonio, TX, and might be there already:
Brittney Griner says she’s happy to be released in footage from plane: pic.twitter.com/UXvFDRUXnX
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) December 8, 2022
Biden and his boys did the work — Griner is part of an ongoing process — from Time late this afternoon:
Since the start of his presidency, Joe Biden has been wary of prisoner swaps. Whenever the prospect of negotiating the exchange of those held in the US for Americans held overseas was broached, members of his administration would exhibit reluctance, according to a person involved in such discussions. For some of the families of Americans detained abroad, it was a frustrating obstacle.
Then came a breakthrough last February, just as Russia was about to launch a tank blitz toward Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. Russian officials signaled through intermediaries that they were willing to talk about the release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who had been arrested in a Moscow hotel in 2018, held on espionage charges, and then fallen seriously ill in Russian detention. Reed’s failing health made getting to a deal even more urgent. Russian officials agreed in April to allow Reed to return home in exchange for the Biden Administration’s release of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot and convicted drug smuggler.
The exchange for Reed created a new opening in Biden’s approach to hostage negotiations. It marked the beginning of the administration’s acknowledgement that swapping prisoners for Americans wrongfully held in autocratic countries was another tool that could be used in securing their release. While critics of such exchanges say they incentivize the kidnapping of Americans, others involved in such delicate diplomatic efforts argue the evidence on that is thin and that such hardline policies ignore the plight of Americans currently held.
In July, the Biden administration put another offer on the table with Moscow: release of the convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the return of basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan. Griner, a basketball star, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for having cannabis oil in her luggage. She was sentenced to nine years imprisonment after pleading guilty to drug charges, and was recently transferred to a Russian penal colony. Whelan was arrested in a Moscow hotel in December 2018 during a trip to Russia for a friend’s wedding. After what he has called a “sham trial,” he was convicted of espionage in June 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
For months, Russia rejected the exchange offer. Then, a few weeks ago, a counteroffer arrived. Russia was willing to do a swap for Bout, but only for Griner’s release.
And work continues for Whelan and others:
Along with U.S. government officials, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and experienced negotiators at the Richardson Center for Global Engagement have been working closely with Griner’s family toward her release, which included many trips to Moscow and the region, as well as meetings with officials at the Russian embassy in Washington, according to a person familiar with the talks. Those talks included conversations to release Paul Whelan, as well as three other Americans including Grady Kurpasi, a retired Marine and Iraq War veteran, who was last seen in April fighting alongside Ukrainians in a volunteer force in southern Ukraine. “Often, the price we pay for bringing our fellow Americans home to their families is unseemly, but it is the right thing to do,” said Richardson in a statement. “We remain very concerned for Paul Whelan and committed to continue to work on his safe return, as we have been for the last four years,” Richardson said.
Jolting Joe is on the mark for so many things:
Imagine what he could’ve done with a real transition. https://t.co/ijBd9oOsVi
— Sam Youngman (@samyoungman) December 8, 2022
And to close us out with a Biden theme — his son, Hunter, and that freakin’-frackin’-fuckin’ laptop:
holy shit lol pic.twitter.com/afoIdomPjf
— Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko) December 8, 2022
Whoa! Holy shit, too!
Swap day or not, here we are once again…
(Illustration out front: Salvador Dali’s ‘Hell Canto 2: Giants,’ found here.)