WNBA star Brittney Griner’s trial got underway on Friday in Russia over cannabis-laced vape cartridges that were reportedly found in her luggage. While that process could take months and experts are not predicting a positive or fair outcome for her, the New York Times reported that Russia has signaled a potential prisoner swap deal that could lead to Griner’s return to the United States regardless of the outcome.
Per the Times, the Kremlin appears to be interested in swapping Griner for Victor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death” who is currently serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for conspiring to sell weapons to people who said they planned to kill Americans.
The differential between the crimes that Griner is accused of and the crimes that Bout was convicted of highlights just how difficult the situation may be for President Biden and the State Department to satisfy everyone while also getting the basketball player back home.
“It has been communicated to the American side very clearly that they’re going to have to get real on Viktor Bout if they expect any further prisoner exchanges,” Bout’s New York-based lawyer, Steve Zissou, told the Times. “My sense is that no American is going home unless Viktor Bout is sent home with them.”
U.S. officials have not confirmed any potential deals related to getting Griner released.
“Using wrongful detention as a bargaining chip represents a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad,” U.S. Ambassador to Russia John J. Sullivan said back in May.
Griner’s family and supporters have called on Biden to negotiate a prisoner swap like the one that got U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed home. A collection of civil and human rights organizations sent a letter to Biden last week asking him to “make a deal to get Brittney back home to America immediately and safely.”