Brittney Griner Prisoner Swap: Russia Confirms Ongoing Negotiations with United States

by Patrick Norton

For the first time since the ordeal began with Brittney Griner’s arrest on February 17, Russia confirmed negotiations between the two governments is underway. In addition to securing Griner’s freedom, early conversations indicate the freedom of U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, too.

Griner received a nine-year sentence from a Russian court after authorities arrested the WNBA star for illegal drug possession. The 31-year-old attempted to travel with a vape pen that had remnants of cannabis oil. However, the lengthy sentence makes more sense as a form of political strongarming.

Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov acknowledged an openness to discussing a deal. It marked the first significant movement between the countries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier in the year.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev spoke on the potentiality of a deal to Russian state media. “Instructions were given to authorized structures to carry out negotiations,” Nechayev said.

While not publicly divulged by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, discussions likely surround the release of U.S. prisoner and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Bout – commonly referred to as the Merchant of Death – currently serves a 25-year sentence for plotting against the welfare of Americans.

Concerns for Brittney Griner’s Health

Thursday marks Griner’s 175th day in custody of Russian authorities. Last week, a former captive of the communist country spoke with CNN, expanding on the growing risks Griner faces. Trevor Reed – another U.S. Marine imprisoned in Russia – faced a nine-year sentence for assaulting a police officer.

Reed expounds on the process and behavior of the government, bringing to light the horrors of Russian work camps. The veteran called the camps “medieval”, mentioning the heightened cases of debilitating illness without proper medical treatment. According to Reed, if Griner is sent to a camp, she faces a prominent risk of contracting Tuberculosis.

The situation is not good for Griner. The WNBA star faced arrest on legitimate grounds, but has since become the country’s greatest bargaining chip. However, bringing Griner and Paul Whelan home remains a top priority for an administration desperately in need of a foreign affairs victory.