“Espy” and drug possession” are two charges that have put two Americans behind bars in Russia, with the hope that they will be released under a possible prisoner exchange deal that was recently talked about.
Reports indicate that the deal relates to their release in exchange for a Russian arms dealer, Victor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.
And CNN reported, on Wednesday, that the administration of US President Joe Biden had offered him a possible exchange for American basketball star Britney Greiner, 31, and former US Marine, Paul Whelan, 52, according to people familiar with the matter. on command.
Who is Britney Greiner?
Greiner, born in 1990 in Houston, Texas, is considered one of the best female basketball players in the world, and with her team, Phoenix Mercury, won the Women’s National Basketball Association championship in 2014.
With the women’s national team, she won gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and at the 2020 Games in Tokyo, which was held in 2021.
Greiner traveled to Moscow earlier this year to participate in a basketball tournament, and during her return on February 17, Sheremetyevo International Airport employees asked her to open her bags, and found cannabis oil in packages for electronic cigarettes, so she was arrested, and the authorities charged her Drug possession.
It was remarkable that her arrest took place only a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Her case received great attention in Washington, where the US State Department protested her arrest and described it as “unlawful”, according to “CNN”.
On March 23, an official at the US Embassy in Moscow was able to meet her for the first time since her detention and said she was in “good health”.
At the US Independence Day celebrations on the Fourth of July, her family revealed a letter they had sent to Biden, asking that she “and other Americans not be forgotten,” and she said, “Please! Do everything in your power to bring us home.”
During her testimony before a Russian court, on Wednesday, the player confirmed that, after her arrest, she did not obtain her legal rights guaranteed by Russian law, such as clarifying the type of charges against her, and sending her to a lawyer immediately after arrest.
Greiner said she signed documents she didn’t understand, had to use Google Translate on her phone, and didn’t get a full translation of what was going on in the investigations. “Essentially, you’re guilty,” he said the same words.
Earlier this month, she pleaded guilty to the charge in an attempt to reduce her sentence, which could be up to 10 years in prison, but upon her appearance, Wednesday, she denied the charge, and testified that she did not know that the packages in her bag contained cannabis oil, and said: ” I still don’t understand to this day how it ended up in my bags.”
Paul Whelan, a security employee accused of “espionage”
As for Paul Whelan, who is from Michigan and holds American, British and Canadian nationalities, he was a security official in an American auto parts company when he was arrested in a Moscow hotel in December 2018, on charges of possessing sensitive materials.
He was convicted of espionage in June 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison, in a trial that US officials described as “unfair”, while he denied the charge.
Last year, he stated in an interview from his prison that he was a victim of “hostage diplomacy” and said that “the kidnapping of an American citizen is unacceptable anywhere in the world.”
He added in the interview with him, “CNN”: “This is not a case against me, it is the case of Russia against the United States, and the United States should respond to this diplomatic situation of hostages and resolve it as soon as possible.”
The interview took place two weeks before the date of the first expected meeting between Biden and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Geneva, in the midst of severe tension that prevailed in relations between the two countries.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced that Washington had made an “important” offer to Russia to release the two prisoners, revealing that he would speak by phone to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, for the first time since the invasion of Ukraine.
The United States and Russia engaged in a prisoner exchange, in April, during the Ukraine war, and former Marine, Trevor Reed, was released in exchange for Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted of drug smuggling in the United States.
From a legal point of view, “the exchange will be possible after the court has reached a verdict,” said Maria Blagovolina, Gerner’s attorney, expressing hope “Gerner will return home soon.”
In a statement, Whelan’s family expressed their appreciation for the efforts of the Biden administration, and hoped that Russia would accept this offer for his release.
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