U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington has offered a deal to Russia aimed at bringing home WNBA star Brittney Griner, reported Yahoo News.
Griner was arrested on drug-related charges at a Moscow airport last February and testified on July 27. "I did not know how the cannabis oil ended up in my bag but explained I had a doctor’s recommendation for it and had packed it in haste," Griner testified. She explained that she was pulled aside at the airport after inspectors found the cartridges, but that an interpreter translated only a fraction of what was being said during their questioning and that officials instructed her to sign documents without providing an explanation.
What's In The Deal?
The deal with Russia would also include the release of Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, who was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years on espionage charges.
This is the first time the U.S. government has publicly revealed concrete action to secure Griner's freedom. While Blinken did not provide details on the proposed deal, it is still unclear if it will be enough for Russia to release Griner and Whelan. Blinked said Washington would like a response from Moscow in any case.
"I requested a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov," Blinken said. "I would also be speaking to Lavrov about the importance of Russia complying with an UN-brokered deal to free multiple tons of Ukrainian grain from storage and warning him about the dangers of possible Russian attempts to annex portions of eastern and southern Ukraine."
Russian officials recently said "no exchange could be discussed until the conclusion of the legal proceedings against Griner. It is not clear how long the trial will last, but a court has authorized Griner's detention until Dec. 20."
If Griner is convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.
U.S. Official Stance
The US government has long resisted prisoner swaps for fear that it could encourage more hostage-taking and promote a false equivalence between an American wrongfully detained and one deemed justly convicted.
However, a deal last April appeared to open the door to similar resolutions in the future and "the Biden administration has been hounded with political pressure" to bring Griner and others home. However, the conflict of interest between powers would be harming Americans designated as wrongfully detained.
Blinken and Lavrov have repeatedly been avoiding each other, but the two men will be in the same city at the same time next week in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they will both attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum.
It is unclear whether a phone call before that meeting, scheduled for August 4-5, would end in an in-person discussion.
Photo: Lorie Shaull via Wikimedia Commons
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