Calls grew to free Brittney Griner from a Russian prison after President Joe Biden announced a prisoner swap deal to release a Russian convicted of drug trafficking in exchange for a different American prisoner in Russia. Griner has been held in Russia on unrelated drug charges for more than two months.
Biden’s announcement offered both hope and further despair about Griner, a WNBA star who also played basketball professionally in Russia and remains in custody following accusations of drug trafficking over her alleged possession of hashish oil.
There was hope in the sense that Biden successfully managed to free Trevor Reed, a former Marine from Texas who allegedly assaulted an officer arresting him in 2019 for public intoxication in Russia and was facing nearly a decade behind bars for the allegations. That success may suggest that Griner could be freed next.
However, that optimism may be a bit hasty since it took nearly three full years for Reed to gain his freedom over a charge that typically results in an overnight jail stay in the U.S. Considering the fact that Griner’s alleged crime is much more serious in nature than Reed’s charges of public drunkenness, any fears that it could take even longer to bring her back home seem justified.
Conversely, the prisoner swap will also send a Russian pilot convicted in the U.S. for cocaine trafficking back to his homeland. The New York Times reported that Konstantin Yaroshenko was detained in 2010 and subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison for flying the drugs to West Africa from South America “with the knowledge that some of the drugs would wind up in the United States.”
Biden described the prisoner swap in painstaking terms.
“The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly,” Biden said Wednesday in a statement announcing the prisoner swap. “His safe return is a testament to the priority my Administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad.”
But anyone hoping for Biden and his statement to offer a mention — or, at the very least, a reference — to Griner and her detention in Russia was disappointed.
Instead, Biden spoke of a different American who is also detained in Russia.
“We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends,” Biden said.
Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 after being convicted of questionable espionage charges.
The news triggered a chorus of voices across social media asking one united question: “What about Brittney Griner?”
The Phoenix Mercury star and two-time Olympic gold medalist is scheduled to appear in court on May 19. She faces up to 10 years in a Russian prison if convicted of the drug charges.
Russian authorities opened up a criminal case against Griner stemming from her arrest at Sheremetyevo Airport in late February. As previously reported, the WNBA player was detained after the Russian Customs Service found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
The charges against Griner came about one week before Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine under what international relations experts have referred to as illegal pretenses.
At the time, Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee described “diplomatic relationships with Russia” as “nonexistent,” but the announcement of the successful prisoner swap on Wednesday shows that’s not entirely true.
Free Brittney Griner: Russian-U.S. Prisoner Swap Excludes WNBA Star was originally published on newsone.com