US urging 1 for 2 prisoner exchange with Russia
Washington is requesting an exchange on what many deem unfair grounds: It's Viktor Bout for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
Upon discovery of "significant amounts" of cannabis oil in her vape cartridges in February, Russian authorities accused US basketball star Brittney Griner of smuggling and possessing narcotics, sentencing her to 9 years in prison this week.
Within the same timeframe and context, when Russia launched its military operation in Ukraine, the US and Europe not only cracked down on Russian assets and businesses, but also on Russian citizens and assets, creating multifrontal diplomatic tensions.
In a press briefing on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the US authorities are ready to take the necessary steps to bring home US nationals Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, who've been convicted in Russia.
"Under President Biden’s direction, the US government continues to work aggressively, pursuing every avenue to bring home Brittney, Paul Whelan, and every American held hostage and wrongfully detained around the world," she said.
Jean-Pierre furthermore divulged that Washington has been urging Moscow to accept its prisoner swap proposal: "As you all know, we have made a substantial offer to bring her and Paul Whelan home. We urge Russia to accept that proposal.
"I’m not able to share more publicly at this time, but we are willing to take every step necessary to bring home our people <…>. And that’s what we’re going to do here," she added.
On Thursday, Moscow's Khimki Court sentenced Griner to 9 years in prison for smuggling and possession of drugs - the court asked for 9.5 years.
Washington has recently offered Moscow to exchange Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen imprisoned in the US under charges of arms trade. This became one of the points of discussion between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
On his part, US President Joe Biden on Thursday said the Russian court's sentencing of US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison was "unacceptable."
"Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It's unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately," Biden claimed in a statement.
Dmitry Peksov, Kremlin's spokesperson, denied Griner was being held hostage: "We cannot call her a hostage. Why should we call her a hostage? She violated Russian law and now she is being prosecuted," the Kremlin Spokesperson said.