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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.”
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.