Brittney Griner: Moscow ‘ready to discuss prisoner swap deal’ after basketball star is jailed


Moscow said that it was ready to discuss prisoner swaps with the United States on Friday after basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in jail.

Double Olympic gold medallist Griner, 31, was convicted yesterday for possessing and smuggling drugs after admitting carrying cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby last night urged Russia to accept a “serious proposal” offered by the US for Griner and fellow detained US citizen Paul Whelan.

He gave no detail but US media reports suggest Washington is offering a prisoner swap involving Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout — known as the “merchant of death” — who is serving a 25-year sentence in America.

Considered one of the best female players in the world, Griner was detained in February when vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage. She had visited Russia to play club basketball during the American off-season.

The US argues she was wrongly detained and being used as a political bargaining chip by Moscow. Russian officials dismissed the US claims, saying Griner had broken Russian law and should be judged accordingly.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said today that President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden had previously agreed on a diplomatic channel that should be used to discuss potential prisoner exchanges.

Griner’s defence team have said they will appeal against the verdict.

Her Phoenix Mercury teammates staged a gesture of solidarity yesterday when they and their Connecticut Sun opponents observed 42 seconds of silence before their game, in honour of her No42 playing shirt.

Celebrities in the US expressed shock and dismay at her imprisonment after the verdict was announced. Justin Bieber wrote on Instagram: “This hurts. If anyone knows any way I can help please let me know.”

Other celebrities reacting to the news included Jada Pinkett Smith, Mia Farrow and rapper 50 Cent.