For months, both Brittney Griner and the US State Department have been carefully measured in everything they said about her incarceration in Russia on drug charges. And then came Wednesday.
First, Griner testified in court, telling the judge that when she was arrested on February 17, she was denied a proper translation, had her rights not read, was denied access to a lawyer, and was forced by her interpreter to produce papers to sign that she couldn’t understand. Her statement marked a notable departure from her “keep your head down and don’t make waves” strategy. She will find out next week if it had an impact: sources expect a verdict and verdict on August 5.
Hours after Griner’s court appearance, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that weeks ago the United States made a “substantive proposal” to seek the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, another American whom the government believes are unlawfully detained. to reach. Blinken wasn’t specific, but as he began his briefing, CNN reported that the United States had offered to trade Viktor Bout, the notorious Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States, and Blinken missed an opportunity to deny the story.
Blinken also said he would soon speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and demand the release of Griner and Whelan.
Griner and Blinken’s comments were a big deal. What they said answered some questions but raised many more. Here’s what we know and what we don’t know. (Spoilers: there’s a lot of “don’t know”.)
What is the significance of Blinken’s comments?
What we now know is that one remaining question – is the Biden administration willing to trade for prisoners? — was answered. Some in the administration had argued that trading with someone like Bout would set a dangerous precedent. Others had argued that the incentive to kidnap Americans is already substantial and the only sensible solution is to strike a deal to bring Griner and Whelan home. Blinken’s announcement made it clear that the debate ended some time ago.
What we also know is that his comments represent a major shift in news delivery. In recent weeks, Russia has slammed US allegations that Griner was wrongly arrested, saying the US must fight back and let Griner’s trial run its course. Griner’s trial is nearing completion, but this was a powerful setback that the United States will not pretend her trial is legitimate.
What do we not know? For one, we don’t know…
What prompted the government to announce a deal that was said to have been offered weeks ago?
Sources have said that Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the United Nations who negotiated Griner’s release, was hoping he could now travel to Russia to try and finalize a possible deal. But since Blinken says he will tell Lavrov directly that Russia must release Griner and Whelan, it appears Blinken is making it impossible for Russia to agree to a deal without appearing to cave in to US demands. (Russia said on Wednesday Lavrov had not received an invitation to speak.)
So what has changed?
It wasn’t long before speculation began Wednesday afternoon.
To fend off domestic criticism that the administration is not doing enough?
Was it because a deal seemed close and then suddenly fell apart?
Was it because the United States is concerned that Griner faces a lengthy sentence, possibly up to 10 years, and needs to prepare the American public for that?
It’s best to remember what numerous pundits and government officials have said: there’s usually a lot more to negotiations like this, and there’s a good chance we’ll never know what’s changed.
What does this mean for Griner’s schedule?
Her family and supporters are prepared for the possibility that she will be sentenced to a full 10 years.
But all along, the real timeline everyone has been worrying about has been when the two countries can reach an agreement that will take them home. And that, in her case, is the ultimate “unknown”.
We know Russia has said it will not discuss a deal for Griner until her trial is complete. We also have a pretty good idea that Russia has discussed (or at least had) a deal but doesn’t want to make it public. It seems that a deal isn’t imminent if Blinken hasn’t even held the talks with Lavrov. But again, we don’t know what we don’t know.
What is the significance of what Griner said in court?
Griner’s lawyers have worked all along on the well-established principle that there is little you can do in a Russian criminal case to change your lot for the better, but it’s very easy to make it worse.
She pleaded guilty, knowing that a guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion. She said she accidentally broke the law. She said she takes responsibility for her actions. When asked by a journalist on Tuesday if she had any complaints, she said “no”. She did nothing to confuse the pens of the Russian court or the Russian government.
But her statement on Wednesday was the first time she had criticized her treatment. Several sources familiar with her case said they took her statement as a message to the international community, as well as to her Russian captors: Russia wants us to treat this as a legitimate trial, but if the judge makes this lengthy verdict, the world will know Russia has not even obeyed its own laws.
What do Griner’s representatives say about this?
Nothing so far. Sources reached on Wednesday said they were trying to absorb all of this and weren’t sure what to make of it either.
https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/34304054/us-offers-deal-russia-release-wnba-star-brittney-griner-know-know U.S. offers deal to Russia for release of WNBA star Brittney Griner