US basketball player Brittney Griner during the court case
Photo: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP
US basketball player Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for drug smuggling in Russia, has hopes of returning to her homeland.
A Russian diplomat confirmed on Saturday that Russia and the US had started talks on an exchange for the 31-year-old.
One model was that in exchange for the release of Griner and former US soldier Paul Whelan, also in Russia, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison, could return home.
"Discussions on the very sensitive issue of prisoner exchanges are taking place through channels chosen by our presidents," director of the North America Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Dartchev told the state news agency TASS.
The quiet diplomacy is ongoing and "should bear fruit if, of course, Washington is careful not to indulge in propaganda," he added.
Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury team in the US professional league WNBA and for the Russian team UMMC Yekaterinburg during the season break, was arrested at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in February - shortly before the start of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine.
Cartridges for e-cigarettes with cannabis oil were found in their luggage.
Griner pleaded guilty at the beginning of the trial, but denied intentional drug smuggling.
Her lawyer argued that the athlete's oil was prescribed by her doctor as a pain reliever.
In the USA, too, she only took it “occasionally”.
In Russia, however, cannabis is also banned for medicinal purposes.
Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison for illegal drug possession and fined one million rubles (about 16,000 euros).