Griner, a Houston native and an all-star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was initially detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17 after the Russian Federal Customs Service claimed to have found vape cartridges containing the marijuana concentrate hashish oil in her luggage.
During her testimony, the two-time Olympic gold medalist contended that she did not know how the cannabis oil for which she had a doctor's prescription ended up in her bag, explaining that she had packed in haste while under great stress.
However, in early August, the judge found that Griner had criminal intent and said she was guilty of smuggling and storing illegal drugs. In addition to the jail sentence, she was fined one million rubles, roughly $16,500. The nine-year sentence was close to the maximum of ten years, and Griner's lawyers argued after the conviction that the punishment was excessive.
Last month, per Fox News, National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said during a White House media briefing that Russia has yet to respond to the “substantial proposal” that the Biden administration offered back in July regarding the release of Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan who was sentenced to sixteen years in a Russian labor camp on espionage charges in 2020.
“They have not responded to our offer. We have made a serious offer to get Brittney Griner and Paul Whalen back home,” he said.
“The Russians have not responded to that offer. But that doesn't mean that we're not still in negotiations,” he continued.
In late July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that the United States presented a “substantial proposal” to Moscow for Griner and Whelan, two Americans classified as “wrongfully detained” by the Biden administration.
Meanwhile, Russia has officially stated it was seeking convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a twenty-five-year prison sentence and once earned the nickname the “Merchant of Death,” as part of any potential prisoner swap.
Media outlets also reported that Moscow had tried to add convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov, currently imprisoned in Germany, to the proposed exchange.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.