Russia warns that prisoner swaps 'difficult' in Brittney Griner case

Kremlin warns US that ‘hype’ over Brittney Griner will not help her case and says prisoner swaps with America are ‘difficult’ as Al Sharpton reveals plans to visit her in ‘atrocious’ Russian detention

  • Russia said on Thursday that it was difficult to exchange prisoners with the US
  • Basketball star Brittney Griner is detained in Russia on drug smuggling charge 
  • Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergei Ryabkov said ‘hype’ around the case does not help, and said letters between Biden and Griner ‘does not help’

Russia has said it is difficult to exchange prisoners with the United States and suggested Washington be silent about the fate of Brittney Griner, the women’s basketball star detained in Russia on drug smuggling charges.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergei Ryabkov said ‘hype’ around the case does not help, urging the US to cease correspondence with the basketball player who recently stood trial in Russia.

Reverend and black activist Al Sharpton also announced plans to travel to Russia to visit Griner in custody ahead of her latest trial on Thursday.

‘I think that the family has rightfully started raising the level of a profile on this. I’ve been talking to them for weeks, and I certainly want to engage whatever I could to heighten the attention,’ Sharpton said, according to Mediaite.

‘It’s my intention to be in Russia next week, and I hope the White House will help to make it possible for me to do a clergy visit to let her know of the support, and to let her know that her family and everyone is concerned about her, and pray with her and bring some pastors with me.’

The Russian official hit out at the US after President Joe Biden received a handwritten letter from 31-year-old Brittney on Monday’s Fourth of July holiday.

The President wrote back, but Vladimir Putin’s administration warned it will only make a prisoner swap less likely.

‘It does not just distract from the case, but creates interference in the core sense of the word,’ said Ryabkov. ‘Silence is needed here.’

His comments came a day after Biden spoke to Griner’s wife, saying the star was ‘wrongfully detained’.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergei Ryabkov said ‘hype’ around the case does not help, and that ‘this kind of correspondence does not help’. The Russian official hit out against the US after President Joe Biden received a handwritten letter from 31-year-old Brittney on Monday’s Fourth of July holiday

Ryabkov said earlier ‘it is not correspondence of this kind that can help, but a serious perception by the American side of the signals they received from Moscow, through specialized channels’.

Griner was arrested on February 17 at Moscow’s Sheremteyevo airport, after cannabis-infused vaporizer cartridges were allegedly found in her luggage.

She faces ten years in prison on drugs charges.

Reports of a prisoner swap surfaced saying the Russians could trade Griner for the release of Viktor Bout – the ‘Merchant of Death,’ who is in a US prison for selling weapons to a terrorist group.

The initial session of her trial offered the first public glimpse of Griner since she was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport in February.

Griner was escorted into the courtroom in the capital’s suburb of Khimki while handcuffed, carrying a water bottle and what appeared to be a magazine, and wearing a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt.

Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle, received a call Wednesday from the president and vice president after Brittney sent Biden a letter Monday pleading to not be forgotten

The state-owned Tass news agency quoted Griner as saying in court that she understood the charges against her.

Asked by the judge if she wanted to enter a plea, Griner responded, ‘At this moment, no, your honor. At a later date.’

She is due to appear in court for another hearing later on Thursday. 

Fewer than one percent of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in US courts, acquittals can be overturned.

The White House said Wednesday it is ‘working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible’.

Griner was detained in the days before Russia sent troop into Ukraine, after which the United States and its allies imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Moscow.

Her case has become one of many sticking points in relations between the United States and Russia, with Washington putting its special envoy in charge of hostages on the case.

‘I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,’ Griner wrote.

‘Please do all you can to bring us home.’

It comes after Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called the wife of Brittney Griner Wednesday to ‘reassure her’ they are working to get the WNBA star released from a Russian prison.

‘The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other US nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,’ the White House said.

He also read her a draft of the letter the President sent to Brittney Griner.

‘The President offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home,’ the White House readout said, reading a draft.

It also acknowledged that Brittney Griner had been ‘wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances.’

Griner is one of 11 women to receive an Olympic gold medal, an NCAA championship, a FIBA World Cup gold medal and a WNBA championship. 

Former US marine Trevor Reed was released from a Russian prison in April after he was convicted of assaulting two police officers.

He was freed in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been jailed on drug trafficking charges in the US.

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