Biden Administration Offers Russia a Deal to Bring Brittney Griner Home

Feature photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Oh, the best news I have heard in years just hit the wire:  The Biden administration has proposed a deal for the release Brittney Griner, who has been wrongfully detained in Russia since February. According to CNN, The US “has offered to exchange Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year US prison sentence, as part of a potential deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” after months of “internal debate.”

Biden’s decision is at odds with the Justice Department’s advisement, but is the most welcome news for advocates — including WNBA players and coaches; sports fans around the country; and Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, who is sitting the bar exam right now — all of whom have been relentlessly pushing the president to act on behalf of one of the country’s most accomplished and celebrated athletes.

Griner, who recently wrote a letter to Biden expressing her fear that she might be trapped in Russia for the rest of her life, pleaded guilty earlier this month to charges of having cannabis oil in her luggage as she was entering Russia, where she was playing international basketball, on the brink of the Ukraine war. However, Griner’s lawyers have been persistent in pointing out that Griner was tested and showed no signs of cannabis in her system; that she obtained the oil legally in Arizona, where she has a prescription for medical marijuana for chronic pain; and that she didn’t intend to break Russian law. Experts believed that pleading guilty was her safest bet to return home as quickly as possible; though, as Autostraddle Editor in Chief Carmen Phillips has noted in her reporting, a gay Black woman often cannot get a fair trial in the United States. The likelihood of her getting a fair trial while being held as a political pawn in one of the most homophobic countries on earth seemed even less likely.

The Biden Administration’s offer was communicated to Russia in June, and continues to be pressed at “very senior levels.” They have hope that the offer will be accepted, based on previous conversations with Russian officials.

The WNBA has worked hard to keep Griner’s name in the forefront of every major conversation they’ve had this year, including speaking to her coaches, teammates, or wife at every nationally televised game and event; adding a logo of her name and autograph to every court in the league; and continuing with her charity work with her Heart and Sole organization.

Carmen Phillips offered this statement after hearing the news:

“I have had one thought and one prayer that I have kept every day for the last 160 days, and that was that Brittney Griner be brought home. In this way, I’m not different than any other Black queer person who has watched as Griner’s wrongful detainment continued for months on end, who have tried to figure what — if anything — we could do that’s helpful in a situation that most often feels helpless. There is no doubt that today is a break. And I will continue holding Brittney Griner, her wife Cherelle, and their families in my heart until she is safely home.”

Everyone at Autostraddle continues to stand in solidarity with BG; we will not cease advocating for her safe and immediate return home.


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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1415 articles for us.

6 Comments

  1. Great news, and a little surprising. The US does not usually bargain for hostages, but in this case there’s little danger of repeat kidnappings, since no Americans are going to Russia for a long time. The question is how much Putin wants Bout back — I’m afraid that he does not give a rat’s *ss about American public opinion.

    • still pretty worried about increasing BG’s value as a hostage, and wishing the u.s. response had been enough to assure Mrs Griner that her wife was a proper priority, so that she didn’t feel the need to raise the attention level.

      hoping the kremlin doesn’t use this to increase demands. the u.s. making an offer to placate public opinion when the russians have said they won’t consider a trade until the trial is complete seems like a weak move. BG needs our best, so i hope i’m wrong.

  2. I clicked on this so fast – thank you for continuing to report on this Heather. I literally have a google alert set up for Griner’s name, that’s how interested I am in this case!

    I had had the same thought – that a two-for-one of Griner and Whelan for Bout seemed like the best deal. It’s making the best of a horrible situation. And frankly, Bout is horrendous, but his original arrest at the hands of US authorities in Thailand was definitely legally unsavory. If you’re going to catch a criminal, catch them in an actual crime, don’t entrap them. I hope that 13 years in a US prison has somewhat neutralized him as a threat. And if it hasn’t, there are other ways of dealing with that once he’s out. Assuming Russia doesn’t deal with him first.

    It’s interesting and a little concerning that this information is being made public before the deal is done, but I think Putin wants Bout back enough that at the end of the day, all the little theatrics of politics and diplomacy won’t matter, because Putin gets what Putin wants. He has been trying to spring and/or assassinate this guy for years, using any and all means at his disposal. Looks like he’s finally going to get his wish.

    I am definitely praying every day that Griner, Whelan, and all political prisoners come home safe to their families and communities as soon as possible.

  3. I hope Brittney Griner will be free soon, and I’m also concerned about releasing the arms dealer Viktor Bout in a prisoner exchange. Freeing him can have severe consequences. The prospect that Brittney Griner will only be released when a dangerous arms dealer can go about his business again is not a great outlook.

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