Russia Provides Update on Prisoner Swap with U.S. Following Brittney Griner’s Sentencing

by Patrick Norton

If there was any doubt of Brittney Griner’s status as a political prisoner, the Russian government squashed it. As the United States continues efforts to bring the WNBA star home from foreign captivity, Russia holds firm with its negotiating leverage.

Early reports indicated a swap between the two countries that would send U.S. prisoner Viktor Bout the other way. Bout – commonly recognized by his nickname “Merchant of Death” – has been in custody since 2008. The infamous arms dealer currently serves a 25-year sentence for plotting to kill Americans and aiding foreign terrorism efforts.

Meanwhile, the United States would acquire safe passage back to the states for Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan. Russia’s judicial process found Whelan – now a security expert – guilty of spying in 2018. As for Griner, the kangaroo court sentenced her to nine years in prison for possession of cannabis oil in an airport attempting to leave the country.

With tensions at an all-time high between the two countries stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, foreign affairs suffer. However, in a Friday morning press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his country is “ready to discuss this topic.”

The Cost of Bringing Brittney Griner Home

Certainly a world-famous arms dealer known as the Merchant of Death should be enough to secure Griner and Whelan. However, Russia holds significant political leverage in the moment. As the United States fast approaches a divided election cycle, Griner’s detainment remains a hotly contested talking point.

Following Griner’s sentencing hearing on Thursday, President Joe Biden called the verdict and captivity “unacceptable.” Biden’s statement also read, “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”

With Griner officially sentenced following the guilty verdict, negotiations between the countries should pick up somewhat rapidly. The hope becomes a safe return for the Americans involved.