WNBA star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to bringing cannabis oil into Russia, but the US government is still willing to secure her release by doing a prisoner swap for a dangerous Russian criminal.
“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday. “Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal, and I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and, I hope, to move us toward a resolution.”
According to the New York Post, Blinken refused to confirm or deny that Russian arms trafficker, Viktor Bout, who was convicted on a 25 year sentence in 2011 for conspiracy to murder Americans, was the government’s bargaining chip.
However, a Wednesday report indicated that swapping Bout for Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage, was on the table.
Blinken said that he would be meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the near future to “raise an issue that’s a top priority for us — the release of Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, who’ve been wrongfully detained and must be allowed to come home.”
“We’ve conveyed this [offer] on a number of occasions, and directly to Russian officials. And my hope would be that in speaking to Foreign Minister Lavrov, I can advance the efforts to bring them home,” he added.
On Wednesday, Griner testified at her drug trial that the translator she was assigned during her February 17 arrest at an airport in Moscow did not provide a complete translation while she was being questioned by officials, nor did she understand the documents she was made to sign at the time.
The WNBA star said that she was not given an explanation of her rights, or access to a lawyer during her initial detainment. Griner did admit that she ignored the travel advisory when she flew into the country at the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict, because she didn’t want to let her Russian teammates down.
Griner plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and in the off-season goes overseas to play for Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg.