The Biden administration participated in a prisoner swap with Russia last week involving the exchange of a convicted Russian drug smuggler jailed in Connecticut for Trevor Reed, a Marine veteran imprisoned in Russia since 2019. Meanwhile, the fate of WNBA superstar Brittney Griner and former marine Paul Whelan remains unclear.
What is clear is that leaders in Washington and Moscow are still speaking to each other, regardless of the daily sputtering and saber-rattling following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested at the airport in Moscow on Feb. 17 for allegedly possessing cannabis oil in her baggage.
Like other female athletes who play abroad during the off-season for extra income, Griner had been playing on a Russian team for the past seven years. The huge gender pay gap in professional sports places women at additional risk.
Whelan, a former marine arrested in Moscow in 2018, was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years of hard labor and is still being held in Russia.
For both Griner and Whelan, Reed’s release most likely provoked disappointment at being left behind, especially knowing that such deals are still possible, despite the vitriol between the White House and Kremlin.
Whelan Expressed His Concerns Directly to President Joe Biden: “Why was I left behind? While I am pleased Trevor is home with his family, I have been held on a fictitious charge of espionage for 40 months,” Whelan said from his Moscow prison. “Why hasn’t more been done to secure my release?”
Griner’s Wife Also Breaks Her Silence: “As I do everything in my power to get BG home, my heart is overflowing with joy for the Reed family,” Griner’s wife, Cherelle, wrote on Instagram. “I do not personally know them, but I do know the pain of having your loved one detained in a foreign country. That level of pain is constant and can only be remedied by a safe return home. For the Reed family, that day is today.”
President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken released statements praising Reed’s release and promising to bring home Americans wrongfully detained abroad.
NBC reported that Biden administration officials said they’re “very aware that there are other Americans held in Russia,” and added that Whelan and Griner are “very much in our minds today, even as we are so happy for the news about Trevor Reed.”