On the call, Blinken also urged Russia to act on its commitments to end a blockade on Ukrainian ports, in order to allow grain exports. He reiterated his concern about Russia potentially annexing additional parts of Ukraine — or, as he put it, Putin “gobbling up as much Ukrainian territory as he can.”
William Pomeranz, an authority on Russian law and politics, agreed that the Kremlin won’t be in any hurry to accept the Biden administration’s initial offer. Biden, Pomeranz pointed out, is under increasing pressure to secure Griner’s release. Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, “would like to bring Bout back, but, after 14 years, by no means is it the same level of urgency.”
Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. initially made its offer to the Kremlin “weeks ago” and that the governments have since “communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.” In a sharp reversal of the U.S.’s recent isolationist policy toward Russia, Blinken said that he intends to soon “follow up personally” about Griner and Whelan with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
Blinken’s public acknowledgement of an offer for Griner and Whelan reflects the mounting pressure on the administration to get both home. The U.S.’s inability to secure Griner’s release, in particular, has drawn criticism from celebrities of all kinds, from LeBron James, to Kim Kardashian, to Kerry Washington, to Amy Schumer.
“One of the things going public does is quiet the critics who say that the administration isn’t working on this, that they’re not doing enough,” Gilbert said. “This can be a direct response to those criticisms. I think it also tells us very publicly that the administration is committed to getting Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan back and getting them back together.”