Russia Griner
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a court room ater a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. A judge in Russia has convicted American basketball star Brittney Griner of drug possession and smuggling and sentenced her to nine years in prison. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
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Kremlin says Griner prisoner swap must be discussed without publicity

18 Comments
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

The Kremlin said Friday that it's open to talking about a possible prisoner exchange involving American basketball star Brittney Griner but strongly warned Washington against publicizing the issue.

Griner, a two-time U.S. Olympic champion and an eight-time all-star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 after police at a Moscow airport said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

A judge convicted the 31-year-old athlete Thursday of drug possession and smuggling, and sentenced her to nine years in prison. The politically charged case comes amid high tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s military action in Ukraine.

Asked at the White House Friday about the prospects of securing Griner’s release, President Joe Biden said: “I’m hopeful ... We’re working hard.”

In an extraordinary move, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke last week to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia on espionage charges, would go free.

Lavrov and Blinken were both in Cambodia on Friday for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Blinken did not even glance at his Russian counterpart as they took their seats at an East Asia Summit.

Lavrov told reporters that Blinken didn’t try to contact him while they were attending the ASEAN meeting.

“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,” he said when asked about Washington’s statement that Blinken would try to buttonhole Lavrov for a quick interaction in Phnom Penh.

Lavrov said Moscow was “ready to discuss” a prisoner swap but that the topic should only be discussed via a dedicated Russia-U.S. channel that Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to establish when they met in Geneva in June 2021.

“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,” Lavrov said. “The Americans often have trouble observing agreements on calm and professional work.”

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the same point more harshly, saying “the U.S. already has made mistakes, trying to solve such problems via ‘microphone diplomacy.’ They are not solved that way.”

He, too, emphasized that any discussions on a possible trade should be held via the previously established confidential channels that Putin and Biden agree to during last year's summit.

“Such mechanisms exist, but they will be thrown into doubt if the discussion continues in the public domain,” Peskov said. He said: “If we discuss any nuances related to the issue of exchange via media, no exchange will ever take place.”

People familiar with the U.S. proposal have said it envisions trading Griner and Whelan for a notorious Russian arms trader, Viktor Bout. He is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.

The call between Blinken and Lavrov marked the highest-level known contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia sent troops into Ukraine more than five months ago, underlining the public pressure that the White House has faced to get Griner released.

Griner was arrested as she was returning to play for a team in Russia, where she has competed since 2014. Blinken said Friday that her conviction and sentence “compounds the injustice that has been done to her.”

“It puts a spotlight on our very significant concern with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda using individuals as political pawns,” he said.

On Thursday, Biden denounced the Russian judge's verdict and sentence as “unacceptable” and said he would continue working to bring Griner and Whelan home.

David Rising in Phnom Penh, Cambodia contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.


18 Comments
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In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the same point more harshly, saying “the U.S. already has made mistakes, trying to solve such problems via ‘microphone diplomacy.’ They are not solved that way.”

...Peskov said into the microphone.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

So this woman broke Russian laws by bringing drugs into the country and was convicted and sentenced as per Russian law. Why would the US make a deal and release a dangerous arms smuggler in exchange for her release? Seems that if you have money/celebrity there are a different set of rules. Bad precedent in my opinion.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Why would the US make a deal and release a dangerous arms smuggler in exchange for her release? Seems that if you have money/celebrity there are a different set of rules. Bad precedent in my opinion.

There’s definitely more to this. She was wrong for being overly confident and stupid for sure, but let’s not kid ourselves, The Russians could care less about this woman or what she did. She just happened to be at the wrong place at the right time, she’s a bargaining chip for something much bigger pure and simple.

5 ( +10 / -5 )

Contrary to what Blinken says, it’s not an unlawful detention, and the conviction is not an injustice. Ms. Griner broke the law, and she’s admitted to it. The harsh sentence, however, is an injustice, although I’m willing to bet that similar injustices are handed out every day in US courts.

Chances are that nine years in a Russian prison would have severe health consequences for Ms. Griner, way beyond anything she might deserve for a petty offence like this one. If the Americans want to spare this foolish woman that fate, they should agree to what the Russians are asking and arrange any prisoner swap - or whatever other terms they can agree on for her and Paul Whelan’s release - quietly. It’s Russia that holds the aces on this one, not the US.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Why not? Maybe it’s because the Russians want to hide the fact that they’re so excited about freeing murderers.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

If it hadn't been Griner, it would have been some other poor American caught up in Putin's revenge scams...

With American Javelins blowing up his tanks and HIMARS missiles taking out his ammo dumps, bridges, and command centers, he had to do something to show his displeasure...

Am sure she'll be released at some point...but it does nothing to deflect from the fact that Putin hugely miscalculated and is losing badly in his goal of conquering Ukraine...

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda using individuals as political pawns,

The 'individual' has rarely mattered in authoritarian states, those supporting authoritarianism must want to cede their very existence to the state, they must want big brother to control their lives for them. No wonder so many talented individuals from Russia/ China and other nations run by dictators and their respective regimes have moved to other countries.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

MarkToday  08:53 am JST

I am hopping that the U.S. and Russia will resolve this issue asap so this star can be freed before she deteriorates, what they found in her bags is Legal in the many parts of USA, she is NOT a dealer nor she intended to harm anyone, it was prescribed for her medical treatment that's all.

Not true. She didn't have a prescription. The FDA hasn't approved medical marijuana so doctors can't prescribe it. All they can do is recommend it which isn't the same at all. It's irrelevant if it's legal in the US or that she's not a dealer. It's Russia where possession in even small amounts is illegal. Don't why people keep using these excuses. Is she a star? I guess in the WNBA which without $$$$ from the NBA would've gone bankrupt a long time ago. Naw...she's not a star.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Pukey2Today  11:03 am JST

*In some countries (allies of USA), that sort of crime would bring you life or even execution. But this time, it just so happens it's not an ally of USA. *Apparently Saudi Arabia is the land of milk and honey, according to Biden and Truss.

Every US president and administration in the last 50 years has treated Saudi Arabia with kid gloves cause of their oil and desire to buy weapons. 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Did republican president Bush do anything about it? Biden actually called-out Saudi for the murder of Kashoggi. Trump chickened out.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Don’t swap her, paying Danegeld merely encourages the blackmailer. It’s not as if she didn’t commit the crime and admit to it and it was not her first visit to russia, she was well aware of their laws in respect of drugs.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Pukey2Today  09:04 pm JST

MilesTag:

Biden actually called-out Saudi for the murder of Kashoggi.

And then he went begging to SA for oil. Got nothing. Not even a welcome at the airport by someone of significance. And that fist-bump.

Embarrassing.

This is in no way more embarrassing than the US not responding at all to the fact that almost all the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian and letting the Bin Laden family leave.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In some countries (allies of USA), that sort of crime would bring you life or even execution. But this time, it just so happens it's not an ally of USA. Apparently Saudi Arabia is the land of milk and honey, according to Biden and Truss.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

MilesTag:

Biden actually called-out Saudi for the murder of Kashoggi.

And then he went begging to SA for oil. Got nothing. Not even a welcome at the airport by someone of significance. And that fist-bump.

Embarrassing.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Let's get Paul Whelan out first.

He will stand for the National Anthem.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I am hopping that the U.S. and Russia will resolve this issue asap so this star can be freed before she deteriorates, what they found in her bags is Legal in the many parts of USA, she is NOT a dealer nor she intended to harm anyone, it was prescribed for her medical treatment that's all.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

My guess is, the pro sports and international publicity attempt is only the clever camouflage of that obviously excessively tattooed drug addicted and dealing person. I’m for that prisoner exchange, if she really wants it, because nine years in a Russian prison might be or maybe not even harder than at a US facility, that should be her choice, but granted only under the condition that she then similarly sits the full nine years or the average US jurisdiction timespan for such crime in her home country.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Why would the US make a deal and release a dangerous arms smuggler in exchange for her release?

The CIA want their spy back.

“It puts a spotlight on our very significant concern with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda using individuals as political pawns,” he said.

Imagine any US government official saying this with a straight face. It's almost comical.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

We know she hates the US national anthem, so it will be hell for her to have to listen to the Russian anthem in the Big House-ski.

She won't understand the words, it's long and not half as funky as the Star Spangled Banner.

Bummer.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

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