Brittney Griner’s family and supporters are increasingly pleading with President Biden and the US government to secure her release amid ongoing fears that Russia could use her in geopolitical justice over its war in Ukraine.
His agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, recently coordinated a letter to Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris signed by groups including the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Urban League and the National Action Network. The letter asked the government to reach an agreement for his release.
US State Department officials met with Ms. Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, in June to discuss the status of her months-long detention in Russia and efforts to secure her release.
Supporters of Ms. Griner have expressed support for her release. Many WNBA players have worn t-shirts and hoodies in support of her, and her initials are displayed on the courts of all 12 WNBA teams.
Initially, supporters of Ms. Griner spoke little publicly about the detention, fearing that her situation would become part of the larger global conflict involving Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the United States’ strained relationship with Russia.
That strategy changed after the State Department declared Griner “wrongly detained” days after Russia traded Trevor R. Reed, a former U.S. Marine who had been sentenced to nine years in prison for assault, in a trade. of prisoners.
Mr. Reed’s deteriorating health in Russia likely influenced Moscow’s willingness to release him, said Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, Ph.D. student in the history department at the University of Pennsylvania, whose areas of study include African-American experiences in the Soviet Union, Ukraine, and Russia.
Ms. St. Julian-Varnon, who consulted with the WNBA players’ union about Griner’s detention, said: “The problem is that Brittney, politically, is worth much more in terms of prisoner exchange than Trevor Reed because of your profile. . So the request will be much bigger, and I think the request that they have been telegraphing in the Russian news is for Viktor Bout.”
Mr. Bout, an international arms dealer, was convicted by a US court and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Russia also has an interest in freeing Roman Seleznev, a hacker who was convicted in the United States of running a massive credit card and identity theft operation and sentenced to 27 years in prison. In addition to Ms. Griner, Russia has also detained Paul Whelan, a former US Marine sentenced to 16 years on espionage charges.
“This is the classic dilemma of hostage situations,” said Thomas Firestone, a former Justice Department official who worked in Moscow as a lawyer. “If you negotiate release, you may be encouraging hostage-taking in the future. If you don’t, the person may never be released.”
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters Tuesday that he and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken had spoken with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, in recent days.
“The United States government is actively engaged in trying to resolve this case and bring Brittney home,” Sullivan said. He added: “You have the full attention of the President and every senior member of his diplomatic and national security team. And we are actively working to find a resolution to this case and will continue to do so relentlessly until we get Brittney safely home.”