White House responds to criticism over Viktor Bout’s release in Russia deal

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre at a press conference in Washington. – CHRIS KLEPONIS – POOL VIA CNP / ZUMA PRESS / CONTA

The White House responded Thursday to criticism over the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in a prisoner exchange aimed at bringing back to the United States U.S. professional basketball player Brittney Griner, imprisoned in Russia on drug trafficking charges.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged that the «immediate results» of this measure «may seem unfair or arbitrary», since «negotiations for the release of prisoners is sometimes very complicated».

However, she has clarified that Washington has carried out a security assessment in the run-up to the agreement for the exchange, concluding that the arms dealer would not pose a threat to US security.

«The president (of the United States, Joe Biden) did not make this decision lightly. We want to make that clear. He believed this was the right thing to do for Brittney’s safety,» the spokeswoman explained.

Bout, known as the ‘merchant of war’ for his responsibility in arms trafficking, was arrested in Thailand in 2008 by order of the United States and was serving a 25-year prison sentence until today.

Jean-Pierre said that while celebrating Brittney’s return home, the Biden Administration continues to be in contact with the family of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, imprisoned in Russia for espionage.

«The Russians were not willing to negotiate in good faith for the release of Paul Whelan at this time,» he has announced. «We are committed to securing Paul’s release, but we will not go into details,» he has added.

In an interview with CNN, Whelan has stated that he is disappointed that he was not included in the exchange, «I’m very disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the fourth anniversary of my arrest is approaching.»

«I was arrested for a crime that never happened (…) I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here,» he has told the cited network in a phone call from prison.