Is Britney Greiner a political pawn? Was her conviction on drug charges previously determined by the Russian government? Will it be safely returned to the United States at some point?
Richard Stoll, a Rice University political science professor who focuses on international relations, addressed these questions Friday during an interview with Craig Cohen at the Houston Matters.
Stoll described Thursday’s announcement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said his government was open to discussing a prisoner exchange with the United States, as a “very positive sign” for Greiner. The 31-year-old women’s basketball star from Houston, Russia was jailed for nearly six months and sentenced to nine years in prison Thursday after being convicted of drug trafficking and possession.
“I don’t think he (Lavrov) can go on his own and say it. I think there’s a truth behind it,” Stoll said. “I don’t think that automatically means a trade-off will happen, but it’s a good sign for her.”
Greiner, who starred at Aldine Nimitz High School and Baylor University before becoming a two-time Olympic gold medalist and eight-time WNBA All-Star, was arrested in February at a Moscow airport with cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage. She later admitted possessing the substances, which are illegal in Russia, saying she was prescribed medical marijuana by her doctor in the US and inadvertently filled the cartridges in a hurry to get to the airport.
Russia invaded Ukraine about a week after Greiner’s arrest. In May, the US State Department said Greiner was being unjustly detained.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced in late July that the United States had offered Russia a deal aimed at securing the release of Greiner and another imprisoned American, Marine Paul Whelan. On Friday, Reuters reported that the US offer entails the corresponding release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, citing anonymous sources familiar with the situation.
Stoll said he thinks there is a good chance that such a trade-off could occur. In April, the US released Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko in exchange for former Marine Trevor Reid, who had been imprisoned in Russia since 2019.
“From the Russians’ point of view, how do they want to appear to the world?” Stoll said. “If it’s like, ‘Okay, we and the United States are on opposite sides in Ukraine, and we have to show the world that we’re not afraid of the United States and we’re against it and we can do things for them,’ that’s bad for[Greiner]. She’s going to jail. She’s like , “That’s it. This is the end of the story.”
On the other hand, if the position at the highest levels of the Russian government is, ‘Well, we’re against the United States on Ukraine, but we want to show the world that we’re a great country,’ and so on, ‘that would be an excuse to do something to let it go.
Stoll said it was possible that Grenier’s arrest on February 17 was orchestrated by the Russian government, but he believed it was more likely that a lower-level official at Moscow’s airport found cannabis oil during a routine baggage check.
“Once she’s arrested, everything else is in my opinion something that has been approved and/or directed by the highest levels of the Russian government,” Stoll said.
Stoll added that the longer Greiner was imprisoned in Russia, the greater the risks she faced.
“I don’t think going to any prison is fun,” he said, “but I think a Russian prison is generally worse than an American one.” “Some prisoners will see her, I think, as American. I can help my own situation if I treat her badly, because we are against Americans. So I am very worried about what will happen to her in a Russian prison, even if I hope she will be released soon.”
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