This is a bit of an update on a post I wrote on Tuesday about Brittney Griner’s plea for leniency in her drug case in Moscow. The Russian judge denied Griner leniency and she is to serve her full nine-year sentence on drug charges. As mentioned previously, her only real hope of early release is a prisoner swap.
The main problem right now is the timing of her detention. Putin invaded Ukraine and that complicates efforts to free her from a Russian prison. The United States is providing the majority of support for Ukraine against Russian forces. Putin wants to poke Joe Biden in the eye by holding Americans on trumped-up charges in Russian prisons. Another American prisoner, Paul Whelan is a former United States Marine with U.S., British, and Irish citizenship. He was arrested in Russia in December 2018. Whelan is accused of spying. In June 2020, he received a 16-year prison sentence. It has been reported that U.S. officials and Russian officials are in talks for a prisoner swap. The swap would be two Americans for two Russians.
According to U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price, the U.S. government has been partaking in “active discussions” with Russia to free American detainees Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
Price made his comments on Monday, saying that the talks have been taking place in “recent days” and are still ongoing, according to Reuters.
“We have not weighed in on the various judicial proceedings and judicial steps because, as we’ve made clear, we believe that these proceedings have been largely shambolic,” Price told reporters.
Other officials have also called the holding of Griner a sham, including U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who said the appeal hearing was only “another sham judicial proceeding.
Sullivan made his comments in a statement on Tuesday. He also shared that the Biden administration “has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel” in order to free Griner and Whelan.
At first, the prisoner swap was just Brittney Griner for a Russian prisoner. Then Paul Whelan was added to the swap, according to reporting. And then another Russian was added to the deal. The Russians only admitted publicly that they were in negotiations in August. The Russians are sticklers for secrecy. However, the Biden administration has been very vocal in the press about their work to strike a deal with the Russians and bring Brittney and Paul home to their families since the families began applying public pressure on the administration. After the release of Trevor Reed by prisoner swap,
When Trevor Reed was released by a prisoner swap, the families of Griner and Whelan began to do as the Reed family did. They captured the attention of the media and put public pressure on the Biden administration to make deals for their loved ones. If it takes a prisoner swap, so be it. Prisoner swaps seem to be the name of the game in Biden’s America.
In order to show they were responding to the families and working on a prisoner swap, stories began to be leaked to the press by the White House for public consumption. That didn’t sit well with the Russian negotiators. They continued to deny any such talks going on with the American officials involved. Then in August the Russians admitted they were in negotiations. Since then, Brittney pled guilty to drug charges and was sentenced to a nine-year prison sentence. The prisoner swap seems in limbo.
Today bring better news for Brittney and Paul. The Kremlin now says that negotiations must be made in silence, no megaphone diplomacy. As they have said all along, the Russians don’t want the negotiations written about in the press or spoken about publicly.
The Kremlin has warned against any public discussions involving a potential prisoner swap that includes WNBA star Brittney Griner, just a day after a Russian court ruled to uphold her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov issued the warning Wednesday when reporters asked if Griner could be released as a part of a prisoner swap negotiated by the White House, saying “we always say that any contacts about possible exchanges can only be conducted in silence under a tight lid on any information.”
Peskov made a similar statement in August after widely circulated reports suggested that Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S., was a key component in the deal being discussed.
“If we discuss prisoner exchanges via the press then they will never take place,” he said at the time, via Reuters.
Will the White House get the message this time and stop leaking to the press in order to puff up whatever they are doing behind the scenes? They should take a page from Trump’s playbook. We never heard a word about a prisoner release until they were either in the air or landed on U.S. soil. He was very successful in bringing Americans home from detention in foreign countries, perhaps the most successful of presidents in that area.