Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made a shocking revelation to the nation at a press conference Wednesday. Mr. Blinken confirmed previous speculations about ongoing negotiations with Russia for a potential prisoner swap, which will aim to free some of the most prominent Americans lingering in Russian jails, including the WNBA star Brittney Griner and veteran Paul Whelan.
The West has long accused Russia under Putin of engaging in hostage diplomacy by convicting foreign citizens for minor or unproven offences in unfair trials. At least thirteen Americans were detained in Russian prisons, according to the lates official data from 2016. Brittney Griner, a 32-year old all-time best basketball player known for her outspoken views on domestic politics, was arrested in February on charges of trafficking less than 1 gram of illegal drugs, and could face a sentence of up to five years in a forced labour camp after her ongoing trial concludes. Paul Whelan is a former veteran whose case has garnered widespread attention in the United States due to the nature of charges set against him. The Canadian-born American was accused of espionage, a typical charge for political prisoner, and has reportedly faced torturous conditions and isolation in his cell.
In April, the U.S. engaged in a prison swap with Russia, successfully freeing Trevor Reed, another veteran convicted of beating up a police officer while drunk. Speculations have been made about a similar deal in the cases of Griner and Whelan for months. Just one week before the Wednesday press conference, the White House issued a new executive order prioritising the return of U.S. nationals in foreign prisons.
These reports were confirmed when the veteran diplomat and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced that the U.S. had presented a ‘substantial proposal’ to Moscow a few weeks earlier, without giving any details. Mr. Blinken said the President’s office was not directly involved in the process, although Mr. Biden is expected to sign off any exchange deal that results from this offer. Mr. Blinken also expressed his intention to raise the matter in a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov within the next few days. This would be the first direct exchange between the two senior officials since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
This revelation also came about a month after Mrs. Griner pleaded guilty on charges of accidental drug carriage, and a few weeks after she wrote a public letter calling on the Biden administration to ‘do all you can to bring us home’. The speculated prison swap, which has not yet been confirmed as a part of the deal, will likely see Viktor Bout – a notorious arms smuggler popularly known as the ‘Merchant of Death’ – freed a few years ahead of the end of his 25-year sentence, conceding a long-standing Russian demand in exchange for the return of Americans detained in Russia. Several prominent experts and former officials have expressed support for the purported exchange. For now, this is pure speculation.
Hopefully it gets resolved soon and they bring her home. She’s been detained for 160 days. The Trend #FreeBritneyGriner is still popular on twitter. In the society we live in. Instead, there is such an astounding gender gap especially in Men and Women sports and this Grinder situation has definitely cause some conversations. The average WNBA salary is about $73,000.