Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the country is open to discussions with the United States about a potential prisoner swap involving WNBA star Brittney Griner, who’s been detained in Russia for 162 days after being arrested at a Moscow airport in February.
Vladimir Isachenkov of the Associated Press reported Friday that Lavrov confirmed he received a request to speak with Secretary of State Antony Blinken amid reports the U.S. was prepared to offer Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner, who’s on trial for drug charges while negotiations continue, and fellow American Paul Whelan.
“I will listen to what he has to say,” Lavrov said, though he noted his department hasn’t been involved in prior discussions on the topic.
Griner pleaded guilty to charges related to bringing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil to Russia in her luggage, but Russian criminal trials proceed even when a plea has been entered, per Isachenkov.
The 31-year-old Texas native said during testimony Wednesday she doesn’t know how the vape cartridges ended up in her luggage and she didn’t purposely bring them to Russia.
“I still don’t understand to this day how they ended up in my bags,” Griner said. “I didn’t have any intent to use or keep in my possession any substance that is prohibited in Russia.”
She noted a woman at the airport was described as an interpreter but only told her where to sign paperwork, and no one provided a legal explanation of the documents or explained her rights, per Isachenkov.
“I didn’t know exactly what I was signing,” Griner said.
The eight-time WNBA All-Star said she uses cannabis legally in the U.S. on a doctor’s recommendation to treat chronic pain from sports injuries suffered over the years.
CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Evan Perez and Jennifer Hansler reported Thursday that President Joe Biden was supporting the plan to offer Bout in exchange for Griner and Whelan, despite the Department of Justice being “generally against prisoner trades.”
Blinken said Wednesday the U.S. had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia but didn’t confirm details ahead of a possible discussion with his Russian counterpart.
“My hope would be that in speaking to Foreign Minister Lavrov, I can advance the efforts to bring them home,” he said.
Griner was traveling to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason. Several players compete overseas in between WNBA seasons for supplemental income.
The 2013 No. 1 overall pick is one of the most decorated players of the generation with a wide range of championships on her resume: four EuroLeague, three Russian National League, one WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury and one NCAA at Baylor.
She’s also a two-time WNBA scoring champion and has captured the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award twice.