A possible prisoner exchange involving American basketball star Brittney Griner is being discussed in Moscow, but the Kremlin warned Washington not to make the matter public. Since February, WNBA Star, Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia. Griner is a two-time Olympic champion and an eight-time all-star. According to multiple sources, Griner’s luggage was found containing vape cartridges with cannabis oil and confiscated by police at Moscow’s airport. The 31-year-old athlete was convicted Thursday of drug possession and smuggling, and sentenced to nine years in prison. Due to Moscow and the U.S. being at odds over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, tensions between the two have been high resulting in the politically charged case.
Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to accept a deal freeing Griner and Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia on espionage charges. On Friday, both Lavrov and Blinken attended a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia. As they attended the ASEAN meeting, Lavrov told reporters that Blinken did not try to contact him. When asked about his comments, Lavrov said, “We were separated by just one person at the discussion table, but I didn’t feel his desire to catch me. My buttons are all in place.” Lavrov stated that Moscow was “ready to discuss” a prisoner swap, but only via the dedicated channel President Biden and Russia President Vladimir Putin agreed to establish during their meeting in Geneva in June 2021. Lavrov also said, “If the Americans again try to engage in public diplomacy and make loud statements about their intention to take certain steps, it’s their business, I would even say their problem. The Americans often have trouble observing agreements on calm and professional work.”
According to sources familiar with the US proposal, Griner and Whelan would be traded for notorious Russian arms trader Viktor Bout. Bout was convicted of conspiracy to kill United States citizens and providing aid to terrorist organizations and is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the United States.
Blinken and Lavrov’s call was the highest-level contact between the U.S. and Moscow since Russia sent troops into Ukraine more than five months ago, demonstrating the pressure the White House has faced from the public. Announcing his intention to continue to work to free Griner and Whelan on Thursday, Biden denounced the Russian judge’s verdict and sentence as “unacceptable”.