Opinion: Why is Britney Griner so valuable to Putin

February 10, 1962 During the Cold War, Hollywood-style, on the Glienicke Bridge between Berlin and Potsdam, two men—an American and a Soviet—walked in opposite directions across what decades later would be known as Spy Bridge.

They were Francis Gary Powers, an American pilot of a spy plane shot down over the USSR, and Soviet KGB colonel Rudolf Abel, who served five years in the United States on charges of espionage.

More than half a century later, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, certainly knows the price of a prisoner exchange. In April, his administration released a former US Marine. Trevor Reidconvicted of endangering a Russian police officer after a drunken brawl, in exchange for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted in the US of conspiracy to transport cocaine to the US.

In dealings with Russia, as with Iran and North Korea, American citizens who are not spies have been arrested and held as political “hostages,” bargaining chips for citizens they want back.

In 2018 a citizen of Russia Maria Butina was arrested in the US and charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia. Five months later, former US Marine Paul Whelan, who has the citizenship of the United States, Great Britain, Canada and Ireland, was arrested in Moscow on charges of espionage. He claims that an FSB agent whom he considered a friend planted a flash drive with confidential information on him.

Butina served her time and was released and deported back to Russia in 2019; Whelan is still in a penal colony in a remote region of Russia. The United States officially declared him “wrongfully detained.” There was no trade, and Russia maintains that his detention is not political.

WNBA star Brittney Griner is escorted into the courtroom for a hearing in Russia on July 7.
The latest case of an American classified by the US as “wrongfully detained” in Russia is a WNBA All-Star Game Britney Greener. The two-time Olympic champion, who has been held in a Russian pre-trial detention center near Moscow since February, is charged with drug smuggling and could face a 10-year prison sentence. Customs officials say they found cartridges of hash oil in her luggage.
Her arrest attracted huge attention in the US. Sports figures, women’s rights groups, LGBT organizations, and Griner’s wife Sherel have banded together to lobby the Biden administration for a deal with Moscow. The Biden administration says it’s work intensively free her, as well as Whelan.
President Joe Biden spoke on the phone with Griner’s wife, as well as the Whelan family, and wrote Griner a letter, which was delivered to her in Moscow. U.S. chief private hostage negotiator, former governor of New Mexico and diplomat. bill Richardson, He is expected to travel to Russia in the coming weeks to discuss the possible release of Griner and Whelan. Richardson played a role in Trevor Reed’s release.

But on Tuesday, Whelan’s family described in a statement how third-party representatives like Richardson can “help and hinder a possible resolution of the detainee’s case.”

Such representatives “cannot offer or agree to concessions that underlie ongoing detention,” the Whelan family said in a statement to CNN, adding that “because they operate outside of any government, they may not know.” negotiations that are already underway between the US government and the hostage-taking country.”

Prisoner exchange calculation

With her stellar qualities, Griner could be a valuable asset if Putin really wanted a prisoner exchange, which Moscow has indicated might be possible. The Kremlin insists, however, that she is not a hostage and that the case is being conducted strictly according to Russian criminal law.

However, Russian media coverage paints a more subtle picture. From the Kremlin – dry, “according to the rules” statements of Russian officials. On Russian state television, a short video shows Griner being led into a courtroom under armed police guard, handcuffed to a female courtroom security officer, causing the six-foot-nine basketball star to hunch over. Considering that only 0.25% of all criminal cases – acquittals, the visual image of the Russian viewer is likely to create the impression of guilt.
Russian drug laws are stricter than US laws and apply to Russian citizens. But Griner is accused of large-scale drug trafficking, for which she faces 10 years in prison, although she was only carrying 0.702 grams hash oil — less than 0.0248 ounce — which her lawyers claimed was for personal use. Cannabis is banned in Russia.
LeBron James talks about Britney Griner's arrest in the new trailer for The Store.
For Biden, approving a prisoner exchange is a complex diplomatic, political, and human calculation. Greener, a gay black American woman, is on trial for drug charges in a hostile country. Russia has law a ban on the dissemination of “gay propaganda” and widespread hostility in Russian society towards homosexuals. Russian prisons and penal colonies famous for harsh conditions.
Even the current conditions of confinement are difficult for a man over six feet tall. Griner’s wife says Britney was taken to court – a five-hour drive – in a “very, very, very tiny cage.” AT letter To Biden, Griner wrote: “I’m afraid I might stay here forever.”
Whelan also complained to his family that the barracks in his penal colony were not heated and that he often woke up all night long.

Yet hostage-taking experts warn that trading an arrested basketball star with a tiny amount of hash oil could result in more Americans being unfairly arrested and used as hostages in future exchanges.

If there was a prisoner exchange for Griner – and possibly Whelan – who would Russia want back? Testimony from Moscow what could it be Victor Bouta notorious international arms dealer sentenced to 25 years in an American prison, nicknamed the “dealer of death” for fomenting civil wars in Africa and bloody conflicts in Latin America and the Middle East.
Bout, a former Soviet Air Force officer, is suspected of having close ties to Russian intelligence. In 2002 in interview I conducted with him in the Moscow bureau of CNN, he simply called himself a “businessman.”

Under normal circumstances, a prisoner exchange is a delicate and delicate matter, usually best discussed away from the cameras. The Britney Griner case is far from quiet, and relations between Russia and the United States are extremely tense in the midst of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Ryabkov condemned what he called the “hype” surrounding the case and criticized Biden’s letter to Griner, saying that “such correspondence does not help.”

Last week, Griner pleaded guilty to drug dealing, telling a judge, “But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.” According to lawyers, this confession could help solve the case.

But this highly politicized process is being resolved under the close attention of cameras and public outcry, against the backdrop of a crisis in diplomatic relations.

Russian officials say that any exchange of prisoners will take place only after the verdict is announced. But this time there is no Bridge of Spies, and the US and Russia are engaged in a new Cold War.