Incarcerating a US Marine in a Russian prison while putting a WNBA star through a “sham” trial in Moscow are “strategic” political moves as America negotiates a possible prisoner swap, experts said.
Women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who was arrested at a Russian airport earlier this year for allegedly transporting cannabis oil, was on trial again Tuesday.
The other Russian prisoner – former Marine Paul Whelan – has been behind bars since 2018 on charges of “espionage”.
The White House has reportedly been working on a deal to free the two US citizens in exchange for Russian Victor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death”.
Bout is a “dangerous criminal” who has been duly convicted by the American judiciary, according to Duncan Levin, a prominent defense attorney and former prosecutor.
“A prisoner swap with Russia is like negotiating with a hostage-taker,” Levin warned.
“This is more of a dance of international relations than something played in court.”
Bout was convicted by a US federal court in 2011 and is serving a 25-year sentence on conspiracy to murder US citizens and officials.
“I’m sure Russian officials had strategic reasons for holding Brittney hostage,” Amani Wells-Onyioha, a political expert and civil rights activist, told The Sun.
“When they revealed they were looking for a deal, the evidence was clear that this was a somewhat premeditated, preconceived plan.”
US officials said Griner and Whelan are illegally being held as political prisoners in Russia.
Both experts fear an exchange will set a dangerous precedent that will embolden Russia — and other enemies of the US — to illegally arrest more Americans.
“This could potentially set a precedent for other countries to start holding US citizens for very petty crimes to get what they want,” Wells-Onyioha said.
“At the same time, this shouldn’t stop American leaders from rescuing their citizens.”
That is the dilemma facing the White House.
BACK IN COURT
Griner was back in court Tuesday, but Levin said it was more a demonstration of semblance of due process than anything ahead of a possible prisoner swap.
Calling it a prisoner swap “is misleading,” Levin said.
“An exchange is when you exchange like for like,” said the former federal prosecutor.
“But Bout was convicted in the United States of extremely serious felonies against Brittney Griner, who allegedly had some marijuana vape cartridges in her bag.
“She was thrown into a system where she was not informed of her rights and had no due process.”
There’s “no playbook” for this prison swap, so there’s no timeline for when — or if — it will be ready, Levin said.
Kremlin ‘doesn’t seem to care’
The Kremlin appears to most people as the villain in this situation. The same could be said for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
“They don’t seem to care because their expansion plans are more important to them than the means by which they gain that power,” Wells-Onyioha said.
“We may see more situations like this from them in the future to push other agendas.”
COMMENTS FROM ANTHONY BLINK
The tense negotiations will mark the first time the countries have spoken to each other since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.
“We put a significant proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said this week.
Blinken added that he plans to speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to raise the proposal.
https://www.the-sun.com/news/5913088/russia-prisoner-exchange-brittney-griner-paul-whelan/ Brittney Griner case said to set ‘dangerous precedent because passenger swap with Russia is like hostage negotiation’