The exchange of Brittney Griner for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout well demonstrates the priorities of the administration of Joe Biden, who between the national interest and prestige of the United States, domestic personal interests and working for the liberal electorate apparently chooses the latter. Indeed, this time the sacrifice was made in the name of supporting the BLM and LGBTQ+ communities. Technically, the White House has long been under pressure from the country’s sports community to come to terms with Russia and return Greiner from prison back home to Texas. Russia, which detained the basketball player knowingly for an exchange, sought to return exactly the “chief” Russian prisoner in the United States to Moscow. Viktor Bout had been pursued by U.S. law enforcement for more than a decade, accused of selling arms in Africa and Afghanistan to militant groups. He was put on the internationally wanted list back in 2001, and in 2006 the Bush Jr. administration imposed sanctions against him. A few years later he was arrested in Thailand and then extradited to the United States, where in 2011 he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He served his sentence at ADX Florence, a special prison for terrorists in Colorado, and even in the best-case scenario he might not be free until 2029. All these facts indicated what a serious figure Bout is. Against his background Griner, who went to prison, because of a quite ordinary criminal action, did not look even close worthy subject for bargaining.
Even during Obama’s presidency, there were attempts to exchange Bout, but they failed largely because Moscow did not have the right people to exchange. Already in 2022, with this factor in mind, the Biden administration initially demanded that Russia exchange Bout for several Americans, including Paul Whelan, a former Marine accused of espionage. Russian authorities probably sensed the weakness of the White House position and insisted strongly on them. In addition to the importance of But to Moscow, the motivation to strike a blow to Washington’s image by angering the conservative part of the American people over the unequal value of the deal seemed to be obviously apparent. In the end, Biden had to give in and settle for an equal one-against-one exchange. The “hidden” conflict with Moscow, which in the light of escalation could have put an end to any negotiations in the future, also spurred him on. The main motivation was still to play with public opinion, where the White House benefits from pitching the exchange to domestic American audiences. While for conservative Moscow such a deal looked like an obvious defeat for Biden, in the United States, there was a strong case for the president to succeed “at any cost”.
However, while flirting with the Democratic electorate, Biden could not receive negativity from the Republican flank. Former Trump adviser John Bolton called the exchange “America’s surrender”. In the eyes of conservatives, a dangerous U.S. adversary like Bout was exchanged for a petty junkie. The Biden team, realizing that such an exchange would be difficult to present as their victory for the entire community, had long tried to persuade Russia to give up Paul Whelan as well, but of no avail. Even knowing the inevitability of a one-against-one deal, it was obvious to Republican voters that it was Whelan, not Griner, who had to be swapped. The fact that the exchange could have been planned in time for the congressional elections was also annoying because it did not help Democrats to show that they cared about every American. Indeed, because of miscalculations the exchange procedure did not take place until a month after the vote. Many in the U.S. believe that Bout on the loose will continue the path of the “gun baron” and cause serious damage to U.S. security, which makes the results of the exchange not just “zero”, but also brings serious national security disadvantage. Biden sought to show the arrival of Griner as a triumphant return of an unbroken American from “enemy territory” that should have rallied the citizens, but the result was only a demonstration that citizens are not equal under the Democratic Party, and that “prisoners” with the right sexual orientation and skin color have far more rights than the average resident of Griner’s native Texas.
Such blatant injustice could not but lead to an attack on Biden by his political opponents. Republicans lashed out at Biden, demanding an explanation for the failed exchange. Some Republican politicians adopted the Democratic style of looking for an “outside trail” and accused Biden of being compromised by Russian and Chinese intelligence, while Donald Trump called the exchange unpatriotic and humiliating for the United States. Even Biden’s fellow Democrats criticized the decision to release Bout as extremely troubling. The most telling criticism came from John Bolton, who said he would have blocked this exchange if he was in the White House. He was also sure that Bout would be used by the opponents of Washington all over the world, demanding to exchange their citizens in U.S. prisons for ordinary Americans. The military experts also see damage to the country because they believe that Bout´s release will reveal the interrogation practices of the American intelligence service and complicate its work. There are also fears that Bout “in revenge” will even expand his business and subvert NATO countries by supplying weapons to anti-government forces and “anti-American rebels” in Europe. Anyway, all this criticism is not stopping Biden from positioning the exchange as a success and considering himself the savior of Americans, and not even being embarrassed that he compromised on U.S. national interests. Solving his personal problems is his priority. Obviously, this situation is not the only example of Biden’s strategy of protecting his own interests at the expense of national ones. This may be the reason for many illogical moves in Ukraine, the Middle East, and the Pacific region, where the same seemingly inexplicable failures are taking place.