Brittney Griner: Everything We Know About the WNBA Star Detained in Russia

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees,” Griner wrote on July 4, days before she pleaded guilty. “Please do all you can to bring us home.”

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris assured Griner’s family they’re doing everything they can.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, wasn’t able to speak to Brittney via phone call in June after an “unfortunate mistake” by the United States embassy in Russia, per the Associated Press. However, Cherelle did get on a phone call with Biden and Harris, who reassured her that they were working on bringing her wife back home

The call came a day after Cherelle told Gayle King on an episode of CBS Mornings that she was disappointed by the administration’s silence. 

“I will not be quiet anymore,” she said. “I will find that balance of, you know, harm versus help in pushing our government to do everything that’s possible because being quiet, they’re not moving, they’re not doing anything. So my wife is struggling, and we have to help her.” 

Analysts speculate that in order to secure Griner’s safe return, the U.S. will have to trade one of its Russian prisoners.

People reports that the two governments are likely to exchange prisoners to get what they want. In order for Griner to come home, Ivan Melnikov, vice president of the Russian section of the International Human Rights Commission, told the outlet in early July that Russia is likely to ask for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer. Bout, nicknamed the Merchant of Death, is currently serving 25 years in American prison after conspiring to sell weapons to people who threatened to kill Americans. 

On July 27, 2022, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the Biden administration presented a “substantial proposal” to Russia “weeks ago.” The same day, an unnamed source told CNN that this trade was for Griner and Paul Whelan, an accused spy who was arrested in Russia at the end of 2018. In exchange, the U.S. offered Viktor Bout, the Russian arms trafficker.

This wouldn’t be the first time the United States and Russia did a prisoner swap. In April of this year, Trevor Reed, a former Marine, was released from Russian prison after nearly three years when Biden commuted the sentence for Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was arrested on drug trafficking charges, per NPR. 

The Department of Justice is generally against prisoner trades.

Griner has been sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court.

At the conclusion of her trial on August 4, Griner was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison, according to CNBC. She was also fined 1 million rubles, which is equal to US$16,590. Though Griner pleaded guilty, she and her lawyers have argued that the WNBA star did not intend to pack the cannabis canisters she is accused of trying to smuggle into Russia. Following closing arguments, she asked the court for leniency. “I never meant to hurt anybody,” she said. “I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population. I never meant to break any laws here.”

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