Biden administration offered a ‘substantial deal’ to Russia for Brittney Griner’s release

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Finally, there is a hopeful update regarding Brittney Griner’s wrongful detention in Russia. Brittney has been detained since February when authorities found cannabis oil in her luggage. Her contact with her family and the US consular official has been limited and she wrote a letter to President Biden imploring not to forget about her and the other American detainees. Brittney’s trial began earlier this month and she pled guilty to the charges, but stated there was no intent to break the law.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed Wednesday that Biden administration has offered a “substantial proposal”  to Russia in order to bring home Brittney and another American detainee, Paul Whelan. The White House has been in negotiations with Russia for weeks, but hasn’t confirmed the specifics or whether the prisoner swap would include Viktor Bout as has been theorized (and reported by CNN).

The Biden administration has offered a “substantial” deal to Russia to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American prisoner, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.

Blinken’s statement, at a press conference, was the first time a White House official has confirmed negotiations to bring Griner home from Russia, where the WNBA star has been detained since Feb. 17.

Citing sources, CNN also reported Wednesday that the White House offered to exchange Griner and Whelan for a Russian prisoner in the United States, Viktor Bout, who was convicted for arms trafficking and is currently serving 25 years.

Sources told CNN that this plan to swap prisoners was backed by President Joe Biden after being under discussion earlier in the year. With Biden’s support, the plan overrides the Department of Justice, which holds a firm stance against prisoner trades.

Blinken said Wednesday that the White House has been in negotiations with Russia on the potential exchange for weeks, and that he intends to discuss the matter further on a call with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“In the coming days, I expect to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for the first time since the war began. I plan to raise an issue that’s a top priority for us, the release of Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, who have been wrongly detained and must be allowed to come home,” Blinken said.

“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” he added. “Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal. I will use the conversation to follow up personally and, I hope, move us towards a resolution.”

Blinken declined to comment on if Bout, who has been nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” would be involved in the exchange.

A representative from the White House confirmed to PEOPLE Wednesday that the Biden administration had “made a substantial proposal to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home weeks ago.”

[From People]

The People article has more details about Brittney’s recent court appearances and testimony. In stating that there was no intent, she explained that she was rushed packing and had recently recovered from covid. Brittney testified that she uses cannabis oil for pain management and has a prescription in Arizona. Her attorneys had an expert testify about cannabis as a popular medical treatment among athletes, and emphasized that Brittney does not use it recreationally in the United States. They also submitted the results of her anti-doping tests. Brittney also shared more about her arrest and detention, including that no one read her her rights or explained to her what was happening, she didn’t receive access to a lawyer, and she had to sign documents but wasn’t told what they meant. She also gave several examples of the ways in which the translation services offered to her were seriously lacking. None of that is surprising, but it sounds scary and frustrating. It sounds like her lawyers are helpful though. I’m glad there’s been movement on the case behind the scenes and the Biden administration is working to bring Brittney home. Like this Politico op-ed from a few weeks ago posits, the exchange is worth it to secure an innocent’s freedom.

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20 Responses to “Biden administration offered a ‘substantial deal’ to Russia for Brittney Griner’s release”

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  1. Jay says:

    I don’t envy the US having to make this deal, but Brittany, a black woman and proudly LGBT, certainly wouldn’t be safe in Russian hands. Of course Russia is going to drag out the negotiations and try to get more, it’s all they have, but at the end of the day we don’t need another Magnitsky.

    And you know, if they really want to take back a convicted arms dealer into their country that badly instead of him being housed by the US taxpayers, then fine. He’s all yours.

  2. Joanna says:

    Good I’m glad they’re working on getting them back. Some of the comments on the articles about her have been so sad. Medical cannabis use is common here in the US. Please bring them home!

    • Kitten says:

      I had no idea how bad the comments were until my fiance called out some racist asshole on an FB post and then continued to get piled on for the next three days. Absolutely UN-FUCKING-REAL the shit people will defend in a pathetic attempt to justify their racism or homophobia or misogynoir–take your pic.

      Please please PLEASE get this woman home!

  3. Sid says:

    Wiglet I suspect Brittany did intend to use them, but her lawyers advised her to keep it cute. I also suspect she was set up by someone in Russia who knew she regularly brought cartridges in with her when she traveled over for work. They probably tipped off someone in Putin’s government who saw it as the perfect opportunity to grab a high profile American as a bargaining chip later. She was arrested just a week before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. To add to this, there were several witnesses at her trial. All were airport workers and testified in open court. Except for one mystery witness who is unidentified and was allowed to testify privately in front of just the judge and lawyers. Tell me that’s not shady.

  4. SophieJara says:

    It’s not a fair deal, but also I cannot imagine his crimes slowed down even a bit because that guy is in jail. He works for an organization and has a stack of guys behind him to take over his role when he’s gone. He’s not John Wick. Grateful Brittany will be home soon.

  5. jferber says:

    Yeah, make it happen; bring our people home. I hope they’re both okay and I fear for their lives every day they are there.

  6. Colby says:

    I’m really glad Brittany may be coming home, but I’m sad to not see Marc Fogel include in this swap. He is an American in his 60s who was sentenced to 14 years in a labor camp for the same crime Brittany committed.

    • Julia K says:

      Didn’t Brittany plead guilty? How is that unjust detention. Others who are also charged (with the same crime) remain in a Russian prison. No attempts to free them?

      • SuzieQ says:

        She was advised by her lawyers to plead guilty to expedite things. Hardly anyone is acquitted. Bring her home!

  7. Ariel says:

    I won’t believe this is successful until she is back on US soil.
    Putin will always act in bad faith and will only agree if the optics look like he is basically taking advantage of the US. He must have a tiny penis.
    I want to hate the citizens for voting for him before he started cheating at elections- but trump was our president. He didn’t ever win the popular vote- but that doesn’t matter.
    He represented us, we were, under him, a country of white supremacy, bigotry, idiocy and corruption. And millions of people voted for that to happen.

    I hope she is home soon. I can’t even imagine.

  8. Paige says:

    I have heard so many spout absolutely awful things regarding this issue. Her dad is a veteran (he literally almost gave up his life for this country) she is someone’s daughter- someone’s wife, she is a citizen of this supposed “free and wonderful country”. She is in trouble for something that is legal here and is medicinal. How in the world can people be so cruel to think her freedom is not worth it. Mind blown. I pray this awful ordeal is almost for her.

    • Kirsten says:

      This has certainly happened to her at an incredibly disadvantageous time, and she is absolutely being made an example of, but free and legal here does not translate to free and legal in other countries. When you travel abroad, you’re expected to familiarize yourself with the laws in places you go and to abide by them. Someone bringing drugs into the US that are illegal here would also be detained.

      • Colby says:

        Yeah I’ve never understood that argument “it’s legal in the US!” means exactly nothing when traveling abroad.

      • Both Sides Now says:

        @ Colby, especially Russia!! As an American, I would tread lightly going into Russia with the current atmosphere between both countries.

        Also, Garner isn’t the only American being held in Russia either. You are dealing with the devil in Putin.

  9. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Bring her home. Bring her home. Bring her home.

  10. rbnv says:

    Am I the only one confused by the phrase “wrongful detention”? Look I don’t want Brittany Griner — or anybody!! — suffering in Russian prisons. Additionally, I use cannabis here in the states. I have also travelled the world for months at a time. And I leave the pot at home — because I don’t want to go to jail in a foreign country. To travel abroad with cannabis is to knowingly risk the loss of basic human rights that we, as Americans, take for granted. It sucks that this happened at such a politically fraught time. It sucks that she is being made an example/political target out of. But nothing about her detention was unfair. Nobody is claiming these drugs were planted on her. To say that violating a law in another country, and getting arrested for it, constitutes “wrongful detainment” blows my mind. It’s classic American Exceptionalism / “the rules of the rest of the world don’t apply to me.” Her fame is the only reason she might get to come home. Again, I don’t want her to suffer or be harmed. But jeez, this was a foolish risk to take.

    • Candy says:

      Oh please. We have no idea what actually happened, and it’s not like she gets to speak for herself in this moment.

      Plenty of oligarchs engage in illegal activity, including you name it kind of trafficking, and get away with it. She’s a political prisoner.

      I was myself detained in the middle east, for “having a large box” (a child’s car seat), for an hour or so in a room of male guards with no translator. These countries cannot be trusted to operate the way ours does.

  11. aftershocks says:

    And yeah, we’re all human, and it’s possible to make mistakes we may pay heavily for. It’s too easy to sit in judgement from afar. Any advice we may have to give Griner about being more careful while traveling, I’m sure she’s thought about often and very up close and personal by this point. Since I don’t follow men’s or women’s basketball too closely, I’d only heard her name previously. Now, I know who she is.

    I think Griner’s current predicament also sheds light on the inequalities in pay, etc., that women basketball players have to endure. Griner was in Europe traveling to play in leagues there for the summer, to make additional income. Regardless of her supposed fame, it’s not on the prestigious remunerative level of famous male NBA players!

  12. Candy says:

    Wow, what a terrifying ordeal for her. I hope she gets home unharmed. Who knows what she’s been through.

  13. Togsos says:

    This seems like an insane swap and likely to put illegal arrest targets on the back of American travellers worldwide. They are releasing a man known as the Merchant of Death, a successful arms dealer responsible for countless deaths worldwide and who was arrested for trying to sell arms to be used against the US for two people. How many will die worldwide once he reestablishes his networks?