WNBA legend Brittney Griner plead guilty to drug smuggling charges and was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony. A day after her sentencing, Russia communicated interest in a prisoner swap with the United States.
Since her arrest in February of 2021, the US government has been working diligently to bring a solution to the basketball player’s detention. Arguing that her detention is improper, the federal government has been open about possibly swapping Griner for arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been imprisoned in the US since 2012. According to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Moscow is now “ready to discuss this topic.”
“There is a special channel that has been agreed upon by the presidents, and no matter what anyone says publicly, this channel remains relevant,” Lavrov stated, speaking of the communication between United States President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to CNN, Russia requested that in addition to Viktor Bout, they want to include convicted murderer and former Russian spy Vadim Krasikov in the swap. If the U.S. agrees, this could guarantee Griner seeing US soil very soon.
Brittney Griner’s legal team discusses her abnormal sentencing process
After her initial detention, many have questioned whether or not the Phoenix Mercury player is being used as a political pawn due to Russia’s recent highly controversial actions. Weighing in on the discussion, Maria Blagovolina, a legal representative of Griner, shed light on the unusual standards Russia has held the 31-year-old athlete to.
“Sentences for this article of the criminal court, they usually not so severe. Usually, it’s like five and a half or six years,” the attorney shared with media outlet PEOPLE after the verdict was released. “So nine years, it’s pretty unusual, and it contradicts the existing court practice in Russia.”
Blagovolina included the sentiments, “We are very disappointed and very upset by this verdict.”
Once the American citizen was sentenced to years in Russian custody, President Biden relayed to the public that her detention is improper. “Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” the politician said in a statement.
“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” he continued, taking note of another American citizen who has been imprisoned overseas since 2018.
If the two countries come to an agreement on the prisoner swap, Griner’s legal team would drop the appeal process and she could immediately prepare to depart Russia.
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