Russian foreign ministry communications are giving rise to hopes of some diplomatic resolution of getting WNBA superstar Brittney Griner back to the U.S. Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison for drug possession, but speculation of a potential prisoner swap between nations is leading to some optimism.
According to Reuters, Russia's foreign ministry stated on Thursday (Aug. 18) that the Russians are engaging in a ”quiet diplomacy” to come to an agreement with the situation. Ivan Nechayev, a spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry, made a reference to the U.S.upcoming midterm elections, which will determine if Democrats will maintain control over the House and keep their slim lead in the U.S. Senate, "Quiet diplomacy is under way and it should bear fruit if Washington follows it, and not fall into propaganda through media hype to score points before an election.”
There have been previous reports of trading Griner and Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine convicted on espionage charges, for Victor Bout. Also called the "Merchant of Death,” Bout was convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and officials.
On Feb. 17, Griner, who had been in Russia playing for UMMC Yekaterinburg, was arrested by Russian Federal Customs Service at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow. Agents said they found hashish oil vape cartridges in her luggage. She was charged with transporting a “significant amount,” or 0.702 grams, of cannabis oil, according to The Washington Post.
Griner’s arrest came amid tension escalating over Russia invading Ukraine.
Griner would plead guilty but argued in court that she did not intentionally put the cartridges in her luggage and packed them in haste. In a written statement, her defense presented evidence that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain. On August 4, the WNBA star was convicted and later sentenced to 9 years in prison, which President Joe Biden stated was “unacceptable.”
After Griner’s conviction, lawyer Maria Blagovolina and co-counsel Alexander Boykov said the punishment was excessive, noting that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them being granted parole.
Brittney Griner’s legal team has filed an appeal.