Ex-Gov. Bill Richardson: Brittney Griner deal a 'good trade' for US - Albuquerque Journal

Ex-Gov. Bill Richardson: Brittney Griner deal a ‘good trade’ for US

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, shown in this November 2021 file photo, was thanked Thursday by Brittney Griner’s wife for his role in helping secure the star basketball player’s release from a Russian jail. Richardson said in a statement he supported President Joe Biden’s decision to swap Griner for a Russian arms dealer, but expressed concern about American citizens still held in Russia. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – While the decision to exchange women’s basketball star Brittney Griner for a convicted Russian arms dealer was made by President Joe Biden, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was involved in back channel negotiations for months preceding Griner’s release on Thursday.

The former governor, who now runs a nonprofit center that focuses on international diplomacy, said he supported Biden’s decision but remained concerned about Americans still imprisoned in Russia, including U.S. ex-Marine Paul Whelan.

“Sometimes a prisoner exchange is unseemly, unsavory and unfair, but we have to do it to bring our hostages home,” Richardson told the Journal. “I think this one was a good trade for the United States.”

Richardson, who is also a former ambassador to the United Nations, founded the Santa Fe-based Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which is focused on international peace and diplomacy efforts, after finishing up his second term as governor in 2010.

Over the years, he has also engaged in diplomatic negotiations with leaders of Myanmar, Iraq, Cuba, Sudan and other nations.

On Thursday, Richardson said he had spoken by phone with Griner’s father, Raymond Griner. He also credited Biden for reaching the deal with Russian officials that included the release of notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

The Democratic former governor also said he’s hopeful the United States could soon secure the release of other Americans held in Russia, including Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive jailed in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are baseless.

“My predication was that we would get Griner and Whelan out before the end of the year,” Richardson said in an interview. “That’s my one regret – that we didn’t get Whelan out.”

In his efforts to help broker Griner’s release, Richardson and the center’s vice president Mickey Bergman traveled to Moscow at least twice and met with Russian leaders, Russian Embassy officials in Washington, D.C., and the White House’s National Security Team, Bergman said.

In those private meetings, potential solutions were discussed to secure the releases of Griner, Whelan and several other Americans, including Grady Kurpasi, a former Marine who went missing after traveling to Ukraine to assist in the country’s efforts to repel a Russian invasion.

While Richardson’s diplomatic efforts to help secure the release of Americans held abroad have at times been downplayed by U.S. government officials, they have also been praised by the family members of some of those individuals.

In remarks Thursday at the White House, Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, specifically thanked Richardson, among others, for his work to help secure the release of the Women’s National Basketball Association player, saying, “Today my family is whole, but as you are all aware, there’s so many other families who are not whole.”

Griner, who played pro basketball in Russia, was arrested in February at an airport there after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil.

She was subsequently convicted and sentenced to nine years for drug smuggling. Griner had been recently transferred to a prison colony outside Moscow to serve out her sentence.

However, Griner was instead released after months of negotiations between U.S. and Russian officials that were complicated by tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the swap of the two prisoners, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the exchange took place in Abu Dhabi and that Bout had been flown home.

Russian media reportedly showed footage of Griner walking off a Russian plane in Abu Dhabi, where she was greeted by a U.S. official. Later, Russian television showed Bout walking off the plane on a snow-covered tarmac in Moscow, his mother and wife hugging him, giving him flowers.

Meanwhile, Richardson said Thursday he was not sure whether he would make additional trips to Russia to try to help secure the release of Whelan and others, saying, “Right now, we’re going to savor this one.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

Home » ABQnews Seeker » Ex-Gov. Bill Richardson: Brittney Griner deal a ‘good trade’ for US

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories




Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages

 

Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
1
Grammer: When it comes to fans, the obnoxious few ...
ABQnews Seeker
Utah State guard Max Shulga showed ... Utah State guard Max Shulga showed class in his response to unacceptable taunts from a few Colorado State students.
2
Man critically injured in Santa Fe shooting
ABQnews Seeker
A man was critically injured after ... A man was critically injured after being shot in a Santa Fe apartment complex on Saturday night.
3
Three teenagers found dead in garage in Edgewood
ABQnews Seeker
Police said in a news release ... Police said in a news release there is no indication of foul play and it appears to have been carbon monoxide poisoning.
4
Man, woman killed in Hobbs hit-and-run crash
ABQnews Seeker
A man and a woman were ... A man and a woman were killed in Hobbs on Friday night after being struck by a vehicle while walking their dog, according to ...
5
Child, 10, allegedly sexually assaulted by foster teen at ...
ABQnews Seeker
The offices of the state child ... The offices of the state child welfare agency are used to house foster children despite New Mexico’s promise to provide them with appropriate homes.
6
Civilians fill in for sworn officers at Albuquerque Police ...
ABQnews Seeker
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said ... Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said he sees hiring civilians as "the forefront of the wave of the future." He added: "The civilians are ...
7
How close did Albuquerque come to a record-high temperature?
ABQnews Seeker
Temperatures in the Duke City reached ... Temperatures in the Duke City reached 63 degrees, said Jennifer Shoemake, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. That was the warmest ...
8
Study says New Mexico turning blind eye to several ...
ABQnews Seeker
A UNM study argues that the ... A UNM study argues that the state government, in its efforts to meet climate goals, stops short of requiring cuts to greenhouse gas emissions ...
9
5 things going on in Albuquerque this week
ABQnews Seeker
From hoops to a mid-week show, ... From hoops to a mid-week show, here’s what’s happening in the Albuquerque next week.