A surprising guilty plea by WNBA superstar Brittney Griner in Russia has only fueled speculation that President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin may be on the verge of securing a deal to free the Phoenix Mercury player along with several other Americans.
“This was never about guilt or innocence,” insisted Helen Galanos, a District resident and self-described No. 1 Washington Mystics fan.
“Brittney is and remains a political prisoner, a pawn for the Russian government and it is really up to President Biden to decide just how much her freedom is worth,” Galanos, a lawyer, stated.
Others echo her sentiment.
“Putin loved Trump and pretty much did whatever he wanted to and Trump would never go against him,” said Avery Hudnell, a civilian government employee in D.C.
“With Biden, there’s no love affair between him and Putin, so it’s back to the two nations hating each other and its policies,” Hudnell said. “Part of Putin’s game is holding someone like Brittney Griner hostage because it brings him attention to the world stage and he also knows he’s holding the cards because this can be embarrassing for Biden with the midterm elections coming up.”
On July 8, Griner pleaded guilty to drug smuggling which could result in a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
She has been detained since February and officials have scheduled a July 14 court appearance for the now-convicted basketball player.
U.S. officials didn’t immediately comment.
Recently, there’s been a growing call for her release. Many observers insist Russia continues to use the 31-year-old as a political pawn.
It’s believed Putin would free Griner if the U.S. did likewise for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.
On July 4, President Joe Biden received a letter from Griner pleading for his help getting her home.
A day later, Cherelle Griner, the WNBA player’s wife, went on national television to express frustration that she hadn’t been in touch with the White House about Brittney.
On July 6, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Cherelle Griner via telephone and reassured her that the administration is continuing to work to bring her loved one home.
“While I will remain concerned and outspoken until she is back home, I am hopeful in knowing that the President read my wife’s letter and took the time to respond,” Cherelle Griner said. “I know BG will be able to find comfort in knowing she has not been forgotten.”
Biden shared with Cherelle Griner a letter he planned to send to Brittney. Still, Griner’s chance at freedom will only come in exchange for Bout.
“Victor Bout is an infamous Russian arms dealer accused of supplying weapons to terrorist groups and warlords worldwide. He is considered a major player in the global black market for arms and his release would be a major coup for the Russian government,” explained Harry Gallagher, a financial planner.
Gallagher noted that Griner has achieved icon status for young women and girls and she’s considered a role model for her athletic prowess and commitment to LGBT rights.
“Some experts believe that releasing Victor Bout would be a major propaganda victory for the Russian government, as it would suggest that they are capable of getting their top criminals out of prison,” Gallagher explained further.
He pointed out that some have argued that Bout serves as a liability for Russia and that it would be better to keep him in prison.
“There is no clear consensus on whether releasing Brittney Griner would be a good move for America,” Gallagher said. “Some people believe that she could be used as a bargaining chip to secure better relations with Russia, while others argue that her release would send the wrong message about America’s stance on human rights.”