Russian state media are mocking the United States for prioritizing WNBA player Brittney Griner over former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan because of Griner's race and sexual orientation.
RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan in a television appearance Thursday said she was "very amused but not surprised" that the Biden administration swapped Griner, rather than Whelan, for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, as Whelan has "three problems."
"His first problem is that he is white. His second problem is he is a man. His third problem: He is a heterosexual. This is not something that can be forgiven today," Simonyan said.
Whelan, a former Marine convicted in 2020 on manufactured espionage charges, has spent two years in a Russian penal colony. "I was arrested for a crime that never occurred," he told CNN Thursday. "I don't understand why I'm still sitting here." During the television segment, Simonyan and the other panelists repeatedly refer to Whelan as a spy and repeat the trumped-up charges against him.
The segment suggests that Russia's propaganda machine plans to weaponize the Biden administration's controversial decision to swap Bout for Griner, who was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possessing less than a gram of marijuana.
"American voters were given a choice: a hero who suffered while serving his fatherland … or a black lesbian, hooked on drugs, who suffered for a vape with hashish," Simonyan said.
"And well-known, for the sake of PR!" adds another unidentified panelist.
Bout, a former Soviet military translator known as the "Merchant of Death," was convicted in 2011 of selling weapons to a Colombian terrorist cell that planned to kill American soldiers. Simonyan, whom the State Department calls "Vladimir Putin's loyal propagandist," said Bout's release is "the first good news" for Russia.
"The second good news is that [the United States] spits on its heroes to the extent that it considers it significantly more important to free a rightfully charged, well-known athlete," the Russian propaganda chief said, adding that "this says a lot about the state of this society, of these intelligence agencies, and everything related to geopolitical confrontation."
Griner since her arrest has become a cause célèbre, which likely informed the Biden administration's decision to prioritize her release over other Americans imprisoned abroad. President Joe Biden has met with Griner's wife Cherelle several times, inviting her to the Oval Office on Thursday to personally share the news of Griner's release.
According to CNN, "senior U.S. government officials" visited Whelan's sister to "share and talk through the news" that her brother was not being released.