After over five months of detention in Russia, Brittney Griner may have a chance at freedom thanks to a proposed prisoner trade, CNN reports. The Biden Administration has offered to exchange federal prisoner Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer, for Griner’s release.
Out WNBA player Brittney Griner was detained in Russia in February when airport authorities found her in possession of hashish (cannabis) oil. This sparked fears that her detention was being used as a bartering chip against the US in the wake of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions that followed. The State Department officially declared her detainment wrongful in May, and she pled guilty to the drug charges earlier this month, denying that her lawbreaking was intentional.
The prisoner swap would also bring home Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since 2018. “There was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” said State Secretary Antony Blinken. “Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal. And I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and I hope, move us toward a resolution.”
Blinken plans to press Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to accept the deal during a planned call this week. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has pointed out that “so far, there is no agreement on this issue.”
In 2012, Viktor Bout was sentenced to 25 years in a US prison for trafficking weapons to terrorists and conspiring to kill Americans. He is sometimes referred to as “The Merchant of Death.” Although the Department of Justice is opposed to prisoner trades, Biden has backed the planned swap.
The offer comes months after another prisoner trade involving Trevor Reed, a marine who had been detained in Russia for over two years. Reed was swapped for Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was serving 20 years for smuggling cocaine.
An unnamed senior administration official commented, “Whatever the kind of moral indignity of them holding innocent people and trying to extract from us someone like a Mr. Yaroshenko, who is the opposite of that, we nonetheless are so committed to bring our people home that we will make those painful choices in certain circumstances.”