On Thursday, A Russian court sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to nine years in a penal colony after finding her guilty of bringing illegal drugs into Russia. We should all be angry. Injustice is injustice no matter what country it happens in and nine years of a small amount of cannabis oil is unjust.
According to the New York Times, Griner’s conviction “leaves Ms. Griner’s fate subject to diplomatic negotiations between Russia and the United States.” In other words: Griner’s freedom is nothing more than a bargaining chip between two world powers.
In fact, some sources have said that Griner would have to be formally sentenced before any prisoner swap could even be possible. But conflicting reports make that idea seem like speculation at best.
Russia has yet to formally respond to the administration’s offer, but suggested that they would be interested in the swap if the US helps to free an additional convict — a Russian national who was tried, sentenced, and imprisoned for murder in Germany.
John Kirby, the Biden administration’s National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, slammed Russia’s counter as “a bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer and proposal that the United States has put forward.”
Also, here’s the non-answer Kirby gave reporters, according to the Times:
“I don’t think it would be helpful to Brittany or to Paul for us to talk more publicly about where we are in the talks and what the President might or might not be willing to do,” Kirby told reporters, referring to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. “Conversations are ongoing at various levels,” he added.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden called Griner’s sentence “unacceptable” and vowed that his administration would fight for her release.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden said in a statement, according to CNN. “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Along with her sentence, Griner was ordered to pay one million rubles, which amounts to roughly $16,400 in U.S. currency. All that for less than one gram of hashish oil.