The Brittney Griner case has long grown into a political affair. The basketball player has been imprisoned in Moscow for months, a plaything of international interests. US President Joe Biden has stepped in, but Russia is standing firm. Now her family has hired a negotiator.
In the political affair surrounding star basketball player Brittney Griner, who is imprisoned in Russia, her family is now trying to get the 31-year-old released through unofficial channels. Griner's relatives, along with the relatives of auto parts dealer Paul Whelan, who has been in Russian prisons since 2018, asked former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson to mediate amicable solutions based on his experience with successful negotiations on the release of hostages.
"I can confirm that both families have asked us to assist them in their efforts to secure the release of their loved ones," said a spokesman for the Richardson Center for Global Engagement.
Griner was arrested at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17 and has since become a political pawn, not least because of the growing tensions between Washington and Moscow due to Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. The athlete is accused of carrying vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage, contrary to Russian law.
Griner faces a sentence of up to ten years in prison. Most recently, their custody, for which there is no official reason according to the US State Department, has been extended several times. Her trial before a Moscow criminal court, which has been ongoing since the beginning of July, is still ongoing.
The hopes of Griner's family for Richardson's successful mission are resting on the excellent reputation of the former governor of New Mexico, just a few days after US President Joe Biden promised to do as much as possible for the freedom of the two-time Olympic champion.
The 74-year-old Californian obtained the releases in the 1990s as a negotiator without the mandate and only with the approval of the US government in the kidnapping of US citizens in North Korea, Myanmar and Sudan. In the White House, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan responded by referring to the Biden administration's direct contacts and negotiations with the Moscow Kremlin.
According to former US ambassador Michael McFaul, an exchange with the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is in a US prison, is now the only chance for Griner's release from his former host country's detention. "Unfortunately, a criminal that Russia wants badly is our only leverage," said McFaul.