In the week since WNBA star Brittney Griner was found guilty on drug charges and sentenced to nine years in prison, it’s been theorized by journalists and pundits that prisoner exchange talks would get more serious now that Russia’s legal process has played out. It appears those opinions are true.
According to The Washington Post, the Russian government is now confirming that negotiations for a possible prisoner swap are happening. Talks were first authorized by President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in April when they met in Geneva.
“Instructions were given to authorized structures to carry out negotiations,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev. “They are being conducted by competent authorities,”
As we previously reported at The Root, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the United States made a “substantial offer” to exchange the two-time Olympic gold medalist and Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who has been detained since 2018 on alleged spying charges, for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer currently serving 25 years in federal prison.
With two countries engaged in public saber-rattling and posturing, it was beginning to feel like no one was actually concerned about bringing Brittney home. Confirmation of talks means things are at least moving in the right direction.
Former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson recently told This Week host George Stephanopoulos that he’s “optimistic” about a possible two-for-two deal that would bring Griner and Whelan home.
“I think she’s going to be freed,” Richardson said. “I think she has the right strategy of contrition, a good legal team. There’s going to be a prisoner swap, though. And I think it will be two-for-two involving Paul Whelan. We can’t forget him. He’s an American Marine wrongfully detained, too.”
It’s important to note that when a deal does happen we won’t hear about it until the Phoenix Mercury center is on her way home or already on American soil. Despite how unexpectedly public these negotiations have been, it’s rare for us to find out when a deal has actually been made.