U.S. offers Russia a prisoner exchange to secure release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, Blinken says

cigaretteman

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the United States has made a “substantial proposal” to Russia to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and jailed American Paul Whelan. The announcement came hours after Griner faced the most crucial moment yet in her Moscow trial on drug charges, giving evidence to a judge in a bid for leniency.
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She faces 10 years in prison in a case that has further strained U.S.-Russian relations, already badly damaged by the war in Ukraine. Blinken added that he would speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a significant break from his past strategy of avoiding contact with senior Russian officials and seeking maximum isolation of Moscow.
The comments from Blinken will intensify speculation about a possible prisoner swap involving Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in Illinois for conspiring to kill U.S. nationals and selling weapons to terrorists. The Kremlin has been pushing for his release since his arrest in Thailand in 2008, claiming he was wrongfully convicted in a New York court in 2011.
Blinken would not say whether Bout was part of the deal offered to Russia. Bout’s lawyer told RIA Novosti that he could not comment on the reports of a possible exchange involving his client, but added that “this may soon change.”
Griner began her testimony Wednesday by describing her arrest at a Moscow airport in February after customs officials found two cannabis vape cartridges in her baggage. Speaking to the court through an interpreter, she said that her rights were not read to her when she was taken into custody, which is required under Russian law.
She was told where to go through an interpreter, she said, but was not told what was happening. Officials told her to sign documents but did not explain what they were or the consequences of signing them.
Unaware that she was being detained, she asked to leave the customs area to catch the next available flight, but was told she could not and had her passport taken from her.
In court, the basketball star wore a dark sweatshirt and held a bottle of water in the courtroom cage where defendants are secured in Russian trials. The judge gave Griner permission to give her testimony while sitting after she said that her neck hurt.
The Phoenix Mercury standout, who has played in a Russian league during the WNBA offseason, said she was given a drug test after she was detained and that no illegal drugs were found.
Griner testified that the translation she was offered during the Russian investigation, which lasted from February to May, was inadequate and often left her confused.
“I remember one time there was a stack of papers that [the translator] needed to translate for me,” she recalled. “He took a brief look and then said the exact words were, ‘Basically you are guilty.’ ”
Griner, who pleaded guilty to the charges earlier this month, told the court she knew she could not carry the cartridges into Russia and did not intend to bring them with her.
“I still don’t understand how they ended up in my bag,” she said. “I had no intention to break the law.” She added that she was “rushed packing and stressed packing. … I was in a huge hurry.” She was also recovering from covid-19 and needed to get tested before flying, she said, adding to the stress.
Under cross-examination by the prosecution, Griner was asked whether she admitted to the crime, a key factor determining leniency in Russian courts.
“As they ended up in my bags by accident, I take responsibility, but I did not intend to smuggle or plan to smuggle [banned substances] to Russia,” she replied.
Griner testified that she needed the cannabis oil for pain and inflammation, having suffered many injuries in her career, including to her spine, knee and ankle. She said she was prescribed the cannabis oil by a doctor, adding that many athletes used it.
In Russia, carrying even small amounts of the substance is illegal. The prosecution argues that the 0.702 grams of cannabis found in the vape cartridges constituted a “significant” amount.
Griner was aware of a U.S. government warning not to fly to Russia because of tensions between Washington and Moscow, but she said she was determined not to let down her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg.
When her lawyers requested that she be allowed to call her family in the United States, the judge asked for a written motion.
One of her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina, a partner at the Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm, said after the hearing that the motion had been submitted.
“It has been five months already, and she hasn’t had a chance to talk to her family. We asked the court to satisfy our motion because of her psychological state,” Blagovolina said.
Summing up the day in court, she said that Griner “explained to the court that she knows and respects Russian laws and never intended to break them.”
The trial will resume Tuesday.

Griner’s supporters in the United States say she is a Russian “hostage,” but senior Russian Foreign Ministry officials have warned that political and public pressure for her release in the United States would not help her cause. They have hinted that Russia may consider a prisoner swap, but only after her trial is complete.
After hearing the news of the U.S. proposal, Griner’s lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov were quoted by Russian outlet RBC as saying: “From a legal point of view, the exchange is possible only after a court verdict. In any case, we will be glad if Brittney is soon at home and we hope that this will happen.”
The White House says that Griner is being held in “intolerable circumstances” and that it is doing everything possible to free her and other wrongfully detained prisoners, including Paul Whelan, a security consultant and ex-Marine arrested in 2018, convicted of spying in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He denies the charges, saying he was set up.
The United States’ efforts to free Griner and Whelan are being handled by the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.

 
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Aardvark86

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This oughta be good. Can't wait to see if the exchange rate is better, worse, or about the same as dollars to rubles.
 

Keehawk

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Anybody going to admit that it wasn't planted now? We spent many pages arguing vehemently about it. Lol
 

lucas80

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Anybody going to admit that it wasn't planted now? We spent many pages arguing vehemently about it. Lol
With you, no. Pissy Pants is more lucid than you these days.
Is it your theory that she has made all of her confessions freely, and without undue influence and pressure?
 

goldmom

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If this is indeed a “leak” I am curious about the timing. Does it mean the medicinal angle that’s being presented by her defense isn’t going well?
 

Keehawk

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With you, no. Pissy Pants is more lucid than you these days.
Is it your theory that she has made all of her confessions freely, and without undue influence and pressure?

Aside from the fact that she has admitted that she brought it, has claimed she had a prescription for it, and claims that she didn't know it wasn't ok? I think the plant theory was killed long ago.
Apparently not as shown in a post above yours! Lol
 

Aardvark86

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Why do we care about Griner? When you negotiate with terrorists you encourage more terrorism. Let her pay the price for her mistakes and discourage the Russians from doing this again.
It’s not a crazy question. To be sure, even if she did break their law she is, simply put, little more than a hostage.
 

TJ8869

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We’ll probably never know if the drugs were planted unless she admits guilt while she’s free on American soil.

Her first mistake was going to Russia when our State Department was explicitly telling Americans not to go to Russia.
 

MitchLL

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This is a "no win" situation for the WH, but yeah, it's a prisoner exchange that has to be made.

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

I suspect this trade is agreed upon by the weekend.
 

Aardvark86

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Well, for starters, Americans get busted abroad on drug charges all the time. What’s unique about this American?

Add to that the fact that a “substantial offer” probably doesn’t mean the Russians are getting a drug offender back. I may be wrong here, but it probably means they’re getting someone who did something that is not in fact consistent with the national security interests of the United States.

and of course we’re dealing with a country that, as a practical matter, we’re at war with, and which has shown a propensity to use the levers it perceives will or do work. While I’m not completely buying into behavioral economics, if The shoe looks like it’s gonna fit…

I get that prisoners get exchanged in international relations. I get that she’s a “relative” (if perhaps brainless) innocent here. Part of the big boy world. But hard not to see this as driven by much more than celebrity, or perhaps worse, electoral politics. Simply stated, there is no reason that we “have to” do this exchange as suggested above.
 

bdg8

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Do domestic medical marijuana prescriptions matter at all in other countries. Like do they honor it regardless of their policy
 
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Well, for starters, Americans get busted abroad on drug charges all the time. What’s unique about this American?

Add to that the fact that a “substantial offer” probably doesn’t mean the Russians are getting a drug offender back. I may be wrong here, but it probably means they’re getting someone who did something that is not in fact consistent with the national security interests of the United States.

and of course we’re dealing with a country that, as a practical matter, we’re at war with, and which has shown a propensity to use the levers it perceives will or do work. While I’m not completely buying into behavioral economics, if The shoe looks like it’s gonna fit…

I get that prisoners get exchanged in international relations. I get that she’s a “relative” (if perhaps brainless) innocent here. Part of the big boy world. But hard not to see this as driven by much more than celebrity, or perhaps worse, electoral politics.
Maybe I misunderstood your post. I agree with you - what makes her a hostage worth trading for? Unless she was set up, she doesn't deserve special consideration any more than a person who violated our laws.
 
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Lose/lose for thr WH here. No way in hell is Joe dumb enough to give them the "merchant of death" an international arms dealer, for an athlete, when we are actively funding a war against them.
 

lucas80

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We’ll probably never know if the drugs were planted unless she admits guilt while she’s free on American soil.

Her first mistake was going to Russia when our State Department was explicitly telling Americans not to go to Russia.
She shouldn't have gone. She was probably counting on her stardom there as some protection, and that she'd been traveling to Russia for a decade as more protection. That probably made her a more tempting target for Putin.
However, if it hadn't been Griner, they would have grabbed someone else. This is a tried and true tactic of Russia, and other autocracies.
Her physical treatment has been horrible. She's 6'9 and the reports are that she's shackled for transport, and forced to stoop over to fit into a small van for hours at a time during transport. It is not a reach to call that torture. I would not be shocked if she is being put under mental duress, too. Nothing she says while on Russian soil should be accepted as fact.
 

EasyHawk

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This is a "no win" situation for the WH, but yeah, it's a prisoner exchange that has to be made.

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

I suspect this trade is agreed upon by the weekend.
Give them The Merchant of Death for Griner?? Why does it have to be done??
 
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bdg8

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Technically, it's the "Merchant of Death" in exchange for TWO Americans.

I mean, how can you pass up a deal like that?
Is the other prisoner we would receive like a total badass? Like a Jason Bourne type. Or is he some nerdy professor type. If we are giving up Merchant of Death we need something more than a female basketball star. At least future considerations included in package
 
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biggreydogs

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Is the other prisoner we would receive like a total badass? Like a Jason Bourne type. Or is he some nerdy professor type. If we are giving up Merchant of Death we need something more than a female basketball star. At least future considerations included in package
Slow joe will f this up. See Afghanistan
 
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swagsurfer02

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If we’re giving up the “Merchant of Death” Griener should have a nickname like “World Destroyer” or something……

That way it doesn’t look like we’re being completely taken
 

EasyHawk

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The bigger issue is Paul Whelan who was quite vocal when Reed came back.

Personally, I have no sympathy for people that put themselves in this position.

Like I said, this is more for optics, imo
I had no idea he is nearing the end of his sentence as well. Just saw it on CNN. Makes a lot of sense.
 

bdg8

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If we’re giving up the “Merchant of Death” Griener should have a nickname like “World Destroyer” or something……

That way it doesn’t look like we’re being completely taken
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