OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
WNBA star Brittney Griner just got some news she definitely did not want to hear from the prosecutor of her drug case in Russia.
The prosecutor is seeking a nine-and-a-half-year sentence for the basketball star who pleaded guilty to carrying cannabis oil in Russia, Reuters reported.
Her attorney argued that there are other big-name athletes who use cannabis as a defense for her client.
“In sprinting there is Usain Bolt, in Formula 1 – Michael Schumacher, and in women’s basketball there is Brittney Griner,” her attorney Maria Blagovolina said.
On Wednesday, her attorney announced that her trial in Russia should be done soon.
“She still knows that the end (of her trial) is near and of course, she heard the news, so she is hoping that sometime she could be coming home,” her attorney, Maria Blagovolina, said, Reuters reported.
Her attorney said that after the trial a trade of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death” for Griner was “legally possible.”
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was stunned by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken talking about the possible trade to the media and warned that Russia would not be bullied.
“We still believe that any exchanges of information on this topic should be discreet,” he said. “Megaphone diplomacy and the public exchange of opinions will not lead to results.”
The attorney for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, Steve Zissou, said in an interview with CNN that he is “confident” that the trade is going to happen to judge by the information he has gotten from “the Russian side, as opposed to the American side.”
The Russians have proposed a counter offer but the attorney believes that Russia would be willing to do the deal for Bout.
“Look, it’s no secret they’ve been wanting him back for several years now. They’ve been trying to get him back for decades,” he said.
The US has offered Bout, who is serving a 25-year US prison sentence, as part of a potential deal to secure the release of Griner and Whelan. But Russian officials have requested that Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel from the country’s domestic spy agency, be included in the US’ proposed swap of Bout for Griner and Whelan, multiple sources familiar with the discussions have told CNN.
Krasikov was convicted in December of murdering a former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison.
The request was seen as problematic for several reasons, the sources told CNN, among them that Krasikov remains in German custody. As such, and because the request was not communicated formally but rather through a FSB backchannel, the US government did not view it as a legitimate counter to the US’ offer which was first revealed by CNN on Wednesday.
“This so-called, you call it to counteroffer, we would call it a bad faith attempt to avoid what is a serious proposal already on the table. And oh, by the way, Brianna, has been on the table now for several weeks,” John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said to CNN anchor Brianna Keilar on Monday. “Holding two Americans who have been wrongfully detained hostage for a convicted murderer in a third country is just — we don’t consider that a serious counteroffer at all. It is nothing more than a bad faith attempt by the Russians publicly to avoid what is a serious proposal, one that we are not making detailed in public and has been on the books for several weeks and we urge the Russians to accept it.”
But even trading Bout for Griner and Whelan has been seen by many as too steep a price.
The former DEA agent who helped to capture Bout, Rob “Zach” Zachariasiewicz, penned an op-ed for USA Today in which he warned against making a trade of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, a dangerous man who he helped capture, for Griner and/or Paul Whelan, two non-dangerous, wrongfully detained people.
“Bout, who is known as the “Merchant of Death,” provided the fuel for conflicts across the globe. He was a critical player in the global illicit arms trade not because he could obtain weapons but because he could deliver his destructive cargo anywhere in the world through his control of a private fleet of military aircraft. And he did just that,” the former DEA agent said.