The US State Department says Griner was wrongfully detained and her case raises concerns that she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine. US officials have offered a potential prisoner exchange to try to bring her home safely.
Alexander Darchiev, director of the North American Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, told Russian state media TASS on Saturday that the name of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout had been mentioned in bilateral talks between Moscow and Washington on a prisoner exchange involving Griner and American Paul Whelan.
“This quite sensitive issue of the exchange of convicted Russian and US citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our president. These individuals are actually being discussed. The Russian side has long sought the release of Viktor Bout. There must be details. Left to the professionals, proceed from the ‘do no harm’ principle,” said US officials Griner and Darchiev said in response to a request for comment on US news reports that he sent an offer to exchange the bout for Whelan to Moscow, TASS reported.
A US State Department spokeswoman said Monday that the US government “continues to press Russia to release wrongfully detained Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.” “As Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken said, ‘There was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate his release.’
“We will not go into detail about what we have proposed to the Russians,” the spokesman said.
Whelan has been detained by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018. There is no set timetable for a Griner appeal, which usually takes one to two months or more. Griner’s lawyer, Rybalkin Gortsunyan Daikin and partner Maria Blagovolina, told CNN of the plea.
The appeal of the verdict and the potential prisoner swap talks will work independently, said Alexander Boykov, a Griner lawyer at the Moscow Legal Center.
“This should not affect them. It is a part of the legal process. Prisoner talks come through diplomatic channels. The appeal can be withdrawn at any time before the actual trial, the Russian government has no reason to wait,” he said.
During months of internal discussions between US agencies, the Justice Department opposed the trade bout, the people briefed on the matter said. However, Justice officials eventually agreed that the bout trade would have the support of top State Department and White House officials, including President Joe Biden, sources said.
The Russian government has often floated the bout as a potential trade subject for several Americans. Bout’s lawyer said he was “confident” the exchange would take place.
Greiner, 31, was arrested in February for carrying vape cartridges containing marijuana oil in his luggage. The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges and said she accidentally packed the drugs in a hurry.
The nine-year sentence and nearly $16,400 in fines was handed down Aug. 4 by Khimki City Court Judge Anna Sotnikova, who said she took into account Griner’s partial admission of guilt, remorse for his actions, state of health and charitable activities. .
CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Frederick Pleitzen, Ivan Perez, Jennifer Hansler and Chandelise Duster contributed to this report.