U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that the conviction of Brittney Griner “further deepens the injustice” of her situation. This comes a day after the WNBA star was given a nine-year prison sentence for drug trafficking and possession of cannabis in Russia. “Nothing about today’s decision changes our determination that Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained, and we will continue working to bring Brittney and fellow wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan home,” Blinken stated.
The sentence given to Griner was nine years in prison and a fine of 1 million rubles (approximately $16,700). The basketball star was arrested at a Moscow airport on February 17. Now it seems that Russia was waiting for the trial to be completed to start a discussion about a swap that will allow Griner to return to the U.S. According to the Associated Press, there was no interaction between Lavrov and Blinken during the meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia, although the fact that they sat next to each other. At the time, Lavrov, who is Russia’s foreign minister, said that his country was willing to consider a prisoner exchange but preferred not to discuss the subject publicly.
Later, Mr. Lavrov seemed to confirm that as he declared Russia’s willingness to discuss a prisoner exchange in private. In June of last year, President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin created a channel for communication between Russia and the United States. Sergei Lavrov said he wanted to hold the discussion there, reported ESPN.
“If the Americans again try to engage in public diplomacy and make loud statements about their intention to take certain steps, it’s their business, I would even say their problem,” he stated. “The Americans often have trouble observing agreements on calm and professional work.” In Moscow, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, refused to make any comments about the ruling and said that there will be no exchange if the media gets involved in the issue. Concerning the clemency process, he said it is coded in Russian laws. “The U.S. already has made mistakes, trying to solve such problems via ‘microphone diplomacy.’ They are not solved that way,” Peskov stated.
Blinken gave no public details as to what the U.S. will be offering to Russia. Rumors say that Griner and another U.S. citizen, corporate security director Paul Whelan, could be traded for Viktor Bout, a high-profile arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States. After Griner was sentenced, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that the U.S. had offered Russia a significant deal without elaborating. “We urge them to accept it,” Kirby stated. “They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it.”
Griner has been detained in Russia for nearly 6 months, when she was arrested at the international airport in Sheremetyevo in February after border guards identified vaping cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage. Defense attorneys for Griner have indicated that they will appeal. The defense team claimed that during the sentencing, the court overlooked all the evidence it submitted and the guilty plea of Griner.