With a grim future looming, Brittney Griner appears to be running out of legal options to avoid her nine-year sentence for drug smuggling and possession. Now a Russian government aide explains that the WNBA star’s situation may not change anytime soon.
According to USA Today, on Sunday, while appearing on the Russian state news program Moscow.Kremlin.Putin, Yury Ushakov, an aide to President Vladimir Putin, explained that Griner is not an important issue for the government.
“In this tense situation, I think that he [Biden] is thinking first and foremost about the upcoming midterm elections,” Ushakov said. “He keeps emphasizing the need to bring [Griner] back home…However, it’s not the main issue that we are concerned about.”
Obviously, Russia’s top priority is its invasion of Ukraine, but Putin also knows that keeping Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan imprisoned gives him important bargaining tools in any talks with the United States. The Biden administration has repeatedly expressed its desire to negotiate a prisoner exchange for the two Americans.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist’s appeal of her sentence is set to take place on Oct. 25. If she loses that appeal, she can then be sent to a prison or labor camp to begin serving her nine-year sentence. On Thursday, while speaking to the press, Griner’s lawyer Alexander Boykov said the WNBA champion is worried about where she will be sent and “fears it will be one with miserable or inhumane conditions.”
During an interview with CBS Mornings’ Gayle King, Brittney’s wife Cherelle Griner noted how no movement can be made on the eight-time WNBA All-Star’s case until both countries agree on terms.
“I feel like at this point, it’s gonna take Putin to have that same mindset and say, ‘You know what? Brittney Griner, who came to my country for seven, eight years, and helped my country be recognized through sport, pay taxes in my country, helped my country; I’m going to sit at a table and I’m going to be clear about what I need in return for her release so that we can actually get a meeting of the minds between these two governments,’” Cherelle said.
Since Brittney has been a political pawn from the moment she was wrongfully detained on Feb. 17—one week before Russia invaded Ukraine—it’s completely possible these comments from Putin’s aide could be part of a Russian negotiating tactic to put pressure on the U.S. In the meantime, the basketball star seems destined to serve some, if not all, of her sentence.