Russian Government Wants Brittney Griner Prisoner Swap Discussed Away from Public Eye

Adam WellsJuly 28, 2022

US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner sits inside a defendants' cage before a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on July 27, 2022. - Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and WNBA champion, was detained at Moscow airport in February on charges of carrying in her luggage vape cartridges with cannabis oil, which could carry a 10-year prison sentence. (Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

As the United States continues to negotiate a prisoner swap in its efforts to bring Brittney Griner home, the Russian government wants the situation to be discussed out of the public eye.

Per the Associated Press, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said these types of things are typically negotiated behind closed doors.

"We know that such issues are discussed without any such release of information," Peskov told reporters. "Normally, the public learns about it when the agreements are already implemented."

The statement from the Kremlin came after United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday that President Joe Biden's administration has proposed an exchange for Griner and Paul Whelan, another American jailed in Russia.

According to Kylie Atwood, Evan Perez and Jennifer Hansler of CNN, the U.S. offered to swap Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout for Griner and Whalen.

Blinken also said he expects to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week for the first time since before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

The CNN report noted a senior official in the Biden administration called the proposal a "substantial offer," but they added that Russia hasn't been responsive since the deal was suggested in June.

"We start all negotiations to bring home Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained with a bad actor on the other side," the official said. "We start all of these with somebody who has taken a human being American and treated them as a bargaining chip."

The AP report included a statement from Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, who said there has been "no concrete result yet" in talks between the two countries.

Blinken's comments Wednesday marked the first time anyone in the U.S. government has publicly revealed specific information about the action it was taking to secure Griner's release.

In a phone call with Cherrelle Griner, Brittney's wife, earlier this month, Biden offered his support to the family and any assistance they might need while the administration worked to get Brittney out of Russia.

Griner has been in Russian jail since February when she was detained at a Moscow airport for having vape cartridges that contained hash oil in her carry-on bag. She pleaded guilty to drug charges in court earlier this month but denied intending to break the law.

Per ESPN's T.J. Quinn, Griner's guilty plea was a strategic move to help facilitate a prisoner swap.

Whelan is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia after being arrested in 2018 on espionage charges. United States officials denounced Whelan's trial as unfair.

Griner was traveling to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg of the Russian Premier League. The 31-year-old has played for the club since 2014 during WNBA offseasons. Her lawyer said in a letter to the Russian court that she was legally prescribed medical cannabis in the United States to help manage severe chronic pain.