Russia won Brittney Griner prisoner swap, Putin still losing
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, there. Ian Bremmer here. A Quick Take, wanted to opine for just a couple of minutes on Brittney Griner, who is back in the United States a free woman, and we're of course, happy to be able to announce that. But what do we think about this deal and what it means going forward?
Of course, we're happy whenever an American citizen is released when they've been unjustly held, in this case, essentially hostage for 10 months by an authoritarian Russian government with no rule of law. Yes, she had committed a crime. She brought in some hashish that she was vaping with, and that was a very stupid act in Russia. But the idea that she was going to get nine years in jail for it, no, absolutely not. This was, of course, the Russians making a point with an American celebrity and wanting to juice that orange for as much as they possibly could. And they did.
They got Viktor Bout, who was called the "Merchant of Death," certainly aging at this point, but has been held in the United States. One of the most notorious arms dealers in the world. Do I think this is a fair trade? No, of course I don't. Because the Americans care about the lives of their citizens much more than the Russians do, and it's unacceptable that we should have to negotiate with Russia. On the other hand, I'm glad she's back, and I also feel like the Americans are doing an awful lot to punish the Russians right now, irrespective the specifics of this individual deal. To wit, we're talking about massive military support for Ukraine, which is helping destroy the Russian arms space. Their military has been diminished radically on the back of military support that has been led by the United States, as well as economic sanctions being led by the United States that is taking billions and billions of dollars out of Putin's pocket, the pockets of the oligarchs that have supported him, and, of course, the Russian economy as a whole.
So, the reality is that's far more important than the back and forth of this individual hostage deal. And the fact that an exchange has been made and the Americans now have a citizen, a valued citizen, back in the country is a good thing. Having said that, Paul Whelan is an American citizen who's now been in Russia for over four years, also illegally detained a hostage, and he's not back. And we should not be happy about that. Biden clearly took longer on the Griner deal because he was trying to get Whelan freed, as well. Did not happen. They're clearly disappointed about that. No one more than Whelan's own family.
Also true, under two years of the Trump administration, there was interest from the State Department in securing Whelan's release. Did not happen. It wasn't a huge priority, and they weren't able to secure his release. That is the story here. The fact that Putin is not just a war criminal in Ukraine, but also does not believe in the human rights of, pretty much, any citizens around the world, is indifferent, and plays power politics whenever he has a small piece of leverage. And in this case, he has a couple of small pieces of leverage. But overall, of course, Russia is in very serious decline because of missteps that Putin has made and because of leadership by the United States and American allies in NATO and all over the world in responding to that unjust war.So, that's where we are. Delighted to see Britney back in the United States. Still have more work to do on Paul Whelan. Still have a lot more work to do on this Russian regime. That's it for me. I'll talk to you all real soon.