Brittney Griner’s defense team has appealed the verdict that Griner must spend nine years in Russian prison after she was found guilty of smuggling narcotics into Russia in February 2022. The news came after the “Russian government confirmed they were discussing a potential prisoner swap involving a convicted Russian arms dealer,” CNN reported.
Griner’s attorney Maria Blagovolina told CNN that there is no set schedule for Griner’s appeal, which could take months.
Alexander Boykov, another Griner attorney, said that the verdict appeal and potential prisoner swap conversations are independent.
“It should not affect them. This is a part of legal process. Prisoner talks come through diplomatic channels. Since the appeal could be withdrawn any time before the actual hearing, there’s no reason for Russian government to wait,” he said.
Despite Russian Deputy Foregin Minister Sergei Ryabkov warning not to view Griner’s six-month-long detention as a matter of political strategy amid the Ukraine invasion, because it could stop the Kremlin from discussing Griner’s freedom, the US State Department maintains that the star basketballer is wrongfully detained.
“Today’s conviction and sentencing by a Russian court of U.S. citizen Brittney Griner to nine years in prison further compounds the injustice of her wrongful detention,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken shared in a press statement at the time of Griner’s verdict. “This step puts a spotlight on our significant concerns with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political pawns.”
US officials have suggested a prisoner swap to bring her home, hoping to tempt the Kremlin with Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, in exchange for Griner and another American detainee Paul Whelan.
The US Justice Department originally opposed trading Bout, insiders told CNN. However, Justice officials now accept that doing so is the best strategy to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home.
The Russian government has proposed swapping Bout for a number of Americans in the past, so it is a glimmer of hope.
“This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and US citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our Presidents. These individuals [Griner, Whelan and Bout] are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals, proceeding from the ‘do not harm’ principle,” Alexander Darchiev told Russian state media TASS.
The US government “continues to urge Russia to release wrongful detainees Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” a US State Department spokesperson said, according to CNN. “As Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken said, ‘There was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release.’”
“We will not go into detail of what we proposed to the Russians,” the spokesperson added.
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