Republican Representative Mike Waltz says authoritarian governments will increasingly see Americans abroad as bargaining chips amid U.S. officials seeking a cope with Russia for the release of imprisoned WNBA player Brittney Griner.
Waltz made the remarks throughout a Newsmax appearance Wednesday, exactly the same day U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he’d approach his Russian counterpart with a proposed prisoner swap. While President Joe Biden has been under great pressure to secure Griner’s release, her situation has revived debates over whether prisoner swaps incentivize the arrest and kidnapping of Americans.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, Griner has been detained since February 17 after Russian authorities said they found cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow area airport. Griner’s arrest came amid heightened tensions over Russia’s impending invasion of Ukraine, and U.S. officials have insisted the WNBA star was improperly detained.
Blinken said on Wednesday he would consult with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the very first time because the invasion of Ukraine to go over a proposal to secure the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned on spying charges.
“Needless to say, most of us want our Americans ahead home, however, not in this manner,” said Waltz on the conservative television network.
While Blinken declined to go over information on the proposed deal, the Kremlin has sought the release of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.”
Waltz said that Bout “has provided Russian arms, to your adversaries worldwide for many years” and Blinken’s deal will encourage more “hostage diplomacy.”
“For this reason dictatorshipslike Venezuela, Iran, China, Russiatake Americans hostage, since they know they’ll get something for this,” he said. “They know eventually some administration can pay. Which just puts a target on the trunk of each American on the market.”
The U.S. Justice Department opposes prisoner swaps.
Blinken acknowledged during his press conference on Wednesday that arbitrarily detaining citizens for political gain is completed in “many countries,” a practice he said the U.S. is actively wanting to end.
“But we’ve two objectives,” continued Blinken. “You want to see those people who are wrongfully detained to be released and also return home. Simultaneously, it’s important that people work to bolster the global norm against these arbitrary detentions, against what’s a classic horrific practice.”
Blinken said President Joe Biden had signed an executive order intended “to react to and impose costs on those that take part in the practice.” He added he would speak more in the coming weeks and months about efforts underway to deter arbitrary detention of citizens.
Earlier this spring, the Biden administration secured the release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed from the Russian penal colony in a prisoner swap with Konstantin Yaroshenko. Blinken said it had been a good example of among the “tough decisions” that Biden is ready to make to free U.S. citizens which are being detained abroad.
Newsweek reached out to hawaii Department for comment.