WNBA champion Brittney Griner and another detained American may be headed home after the Biden administration offered Russia a deal weeks ago.
The U.S. government has offered a “substantial” deal to get Griner and Paul Whelan freed from Russian detention, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a press briefing on Wednesday. He noted the deal was offered weeks ago.
“Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner have been wrongly detained, and must be allowed to come home,” Blinken said. “We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release. Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.”
Blinken did not offer specifics about the deal, saying, “I can’t and won’t get into any of the details of what we proposed to the Russians.” The comments, however, were the first from the administration about particular steps taken to have Griner released.
“The public acknowledgment of the offer at a time when the U.S. has otherwise shunned Russia reflects the mounting pressure on the administration over Griner and Whelan and its determination to get them home,” the Associated Press reports.
For several years, Russia has made clear that it wanted the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for plotting to illegally sell weapons worth millions of dollars, according to the news wire.
Griner, 31, center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was arrested in February at an airport near Moscow. She played for a Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, during the WNBA’s off-season. Many WNBA athletes play for overseas teams in the off-season to supplement their income. She faces up to 10 years in prison.
Whelan has been detained by Russia since December 2018 over spying charges that he has continued to deny. He's been sentenced to 16 years in prison.
In a Russian courtroom on Wednesday, Griner testified that she didn’t mean to smuggle any drugs into the country.
“I still don't understand to this day how they ended up in my bags,” said Olympic gold medalist, according to CNN.
“My career is my whole life,” she explained, the AP reports. “I dedicated everything -- time, my body, time away from my family. I spent six months out of the year away from everybody, and with a huge time difference.”
She also said that when she was stopped in February at the Sheremetyevo airport that she didn’t fully understand the documents she was forced to sign.
Griner said she used Google translate on some of them before her phone was taken away and she couldn’t use it anymore on other documents. She testified she had no attorney at the time, and she wasn’t provided information about her rights. CNN notes that under Russian law that should have happened in the three hours after her arrest.
Her attorney, Alexander Boykov, told media present on Wednesday that her arrest was “improper.”
Griner pled guilty earlier this month to the charges, which her defense hopes may lead to a lesser sentence. Her trial is expected to come to an end next month.