In the middle of the war in Ukraine, Russia and the US find themselves busy arranging the most sensitive swap between the two countries for more than a decade. The negotiations concern an infamous Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the so-called Merchant of Death, who has been in an American jail since 2010.
In return for his release, the US seeks two American citizens; former US Marine Paul Whelan and basketball star Brittney Griner, both currently in Russian prisons.
Vladimir Putin is an old hand at this game and he will certainly demand a much higher price from the Americans.
It is now something of a cliché that Putin is obsessed with imitating the grand style of the Cold War, including the swaps. The most quoted example is the 2010 exchange, when 10 Russian undercover agents — so-called illegals — including the redheaded spy Anna Chapman, were exchanged at Vienna airport for four Russians who had been Western intelligence assets. The event was reminiscent of the Cold War-era spy swaps on the Glienicke Bridge connecting Berlin and Potsdam.
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