Regardless of what Biden does, Brittney Griner will likely be imprisoned for a few more months in Russia, a US official tells Politico

Regardless of what Biden does, Brittney Griner will likely be imprisoned for a few more months in Russia, a US official tells Politico
Brittney Griner.AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
  • The Biden administration said it is working to get Brittney Griner out of Russian detention.
  • She's been in Russian custody since February when authorities accused her of carrying hashish oil in her luggage.

As the Biden administration continues negotiations with Russia to free Brittney Griner, sources told Politico that she would likely remain incarcerated for several more months at least.

"The Russians are making maximalist demands in exchange for Griner," an unnamed US official told Politico's NatSec Daily and West Wing Playbook.

Griner, WNBA player for the Phoenix Mercury, was taken into Russian custody on February 17. The authorities have accused her of carrying hashish oil in her luggage when traveling into a Moscow airport. Her trial began on July 1, and she faces up to 10 years in Russian imprisonment.

The US State Department maintains that Griner is "wrongfully detained" and on Wednesday, Biden told Griner's wife, Cherelle, that he "is working to secure Brittney's release as soon as possible."

However, Russia is likely asking for a Russian arms dealer, nicknamed "the Merchant of Death," in exchange for Griner, Tass, a Russian news source, reported in May.


Per Politico, the US has been reluctant to release Viktor Bout in the past, who was sentenced to 25 years in 2012.

"Viktor Bout has been international arms trafficking enemy number one for many years, arming some of the most violent conflicts around the globe," Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara told BBC in a statement after his sentencing.

Bout's attorney says that his release is likely necessary to see any American citizens detained in Russia return home.

"It has been communicated to the American side very clearly that they're going to have to get real on Viktor Bout if they expect any further prisoner exchanges," Bout's attorney, Steve Zissou, told the New York Times. "My sense of this is that no American is going home unless Viktor Bout is sent home with them."

Russia has also detained two US Marine veterans, including Paul Whelan who was accused of espionage and sentenced to 16 years, and Trevor Reed, who was recently released.


On April 27, the US engaged in a prisoner swap with Russia, allowing for the return of Reed in exchange for a drug smuggler, Konstantin Yaroshenko, who'd been in US custody since 2010. Russia detained and convicted Reed in 2019 for attacking Russian authorities.

Reed's release was regarded by some as a positive indication for Griner, meaning there is a possibility for her release amid the Russia-Ukraine war.

"All the pressure is going on Biden while the pressure should be on Putin," the unnamed official told Politico, adding that Griner "hits all these cultural buttons," including being Black, gay, and a famous athlete.

Reed himself argued Brittney's release may be more complicated.

"Brittney, especially in Russia, is probably in a lot of ways in a worse position than I was because Brittney is African American. There's a large portion of the population in Russia which is racist," Reed said at a Houston rally for the basketball star in June.


"They also have a government that systematically discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transexual people under Vladimir Putin," Reed added. "And those things are obviously going to make Brittney's time there a lot more difficult than if they just had taken another American hostage."

Griner recently wrote a letter to President Biden asking him to do everything he can to get her back to the US.

"As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I'm terrified I might be here forever," Griner's Independence Day letter said.