The U.S. State Department says Griner was wrongfully detained and her case has raised fears that she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine. U.S. authorities have proposed a potential prisoner exchange to try and bring her home safely.
The name of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was mentioned during bilateral talks between Moscow and Washington over a prisoner swap involving Griner and American Paul Whelan, Alexander Darchiev, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s North American Department, told Russian state media TASS on Saturday.
“This rather painful issue of the exchange of convicted citizens of Russia and the United States is being discussed through the channels determined by our presidents. These faces are really discussed. The Russian side has been seeking the release of Viktor Bout for a long time. leave it to the professionals, based on the principle of “do no harm,” Darchiev said in response to a request to comment on US media reports that US officials sent Moscow a proposal to exchange Bout for Griner and Whelan, TASS reports.
The US government “continues to call on Russia to release wrongfully detained Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” a US State Department spokesman said Monday. “As (Secretary of State Anthony) Blinken said, ‘There was a substantial proposal on the table a few weeks ago to facilitate their release.'”
“We won’t go into the details of what we offered the Russians,” the spokesman added.
Whelan has been in Russian custody on suspicion of espionage since 2018. There is no set deadline for a Greener appeal, but it usually takes one to two months or longer. Griner’s attorney, Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners, told CNN about the appeal.
According to Griner’s lawyer Alexander Boikov of the Moscow Legal Center, the appeal against the verdict and possible talk of a prisoner exchange are taking place independently of each other.
“It shouldn’t concern them. It’s part of the legal process. The conversations with the prisoners go through diplomatic channels. Since the appeal can be withdrawn at any time before the actual hearing of the case, there is no reason for the Russian government to wait,” he said.
During months of internal discussions between US agencies, the Justice Department opposed the exchange of Bout, people briefed on the matter say. However, Justice officials eventually agreed that the Bout trade would receive the backing of top State Department and White House officials, including President Joe Biden, the sources say.
The Russian government often offered Bout a potential trade item for a number of Americans. Bout’s lawyer said he was “confident” the exchange would take place.
Griner, 31, was arrested in February for carrying cannabis oil vape cartridges in her luggage. The two-time U.S. Olympian basketball champion pleaded guilty to drug possession and said she accidentally packed the drugs in a hurry.
The nine-year sentence, along with a fine of about $16,400, was handed down on August 4 by Khimki City Court Judge Anna Sotnikova, who said the court took into account Griner’s partial confession of guilt, remorse, health, and charitable activities. .
Kylie Atwood of CNN, Frederick Pleitgen, Evan Perez, Jennifer Hansler and Chandelice Duster contributed to this report.