July 27 (BP) — The United States has made a “substantial proposal” to bring home WNBA star Brittney Griner as well as another American currently detained in Russia, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed Wednesday.
Blinken did not elaborate on the details of the proposal while taking questions from reporters at the State Department.
CNN reported the proposal involves exchanging Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker, for Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine and former security executive serving a 16-year hard labor sentence at a Mordovia prison camp.
President Joe Biden reaffirmed his support earlier in July for bringing Whelan home.
“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago,” Blinken told reporters.
“Our government has communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal, and I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and, I hope, move us toward a resolution.”
Blinken said he would discuss the proposal with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the coming days.
Bout is currently serving a 25-year U.S. prison sentence after being found guilty in 2011 of conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to a designated foreign terrorist organization based in Colombia to be used to kill Americans in that country.
The Justice Department at the time referred to Bout as “one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers.”
The State Department considers both Whelan and Griner to be “wrongfully detained.”
Griner testified in Russian court Wednesday that she had not intended to bring hash oil vape cartridges with her to Russia, saying that her rights were not read to her and she didn’t understand what was going on during her arrest.
“I still don’t understand to this day how it got in my bags,” she said during her testimony.
Griner testified that she uses medical cannabis after a knee injury, but did not use it before tournaments, adding that she has a medical marijuana prescription from the state of Arizona.
Griner also testified that she was confused because of lack of translation, and was later told to sign documents even though she did not fully understand them.
“I remember one time there was a stack of papers that [the translator] needed to translate for me,” she said during testimony. “He took a brief look and then said the exact words were, ‘Basically you are guilty.”
Griner pleaded guilty to possessing less than a gram of hash oil, but told the court she unintentionally brought the vape cartridges to Russia and hadn’t intended to break the law. In Russia, the trial continues even after a guilty plea.
Griner testified that she used medical marijuana for a bad knee injury, but never used it prior to tournaments.
According to her attorney Maria Blagovolina, Griner explained during her testimony that she knows and respects Russian laws and never intended to break them.
The 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury star and Olympic gold medalist had vape cartridges with less than a gram of hashish oil when she arrived and was taken into custody at the Moscow airport on Feb. 17.
Griner has been on trial for a number of days and faces as many as 10 years in prison if she’s convicted on the drug charges.
Griner’s appearance on the stand Wednesday came after medical witnesses testified in her behalf on Tuesday that professional athletes use cannabis to treat sports injuries and that Griner had been prescribed hashish oil by a doctor for treatment of “severe chronic pain.”
Earlier this month, several Russian citizens also testified in support of Griner — including Maxim Ryabkov, director of a Russian basketball club in the city of Yekaterinburg where Griner plays during the WNBA off-season, and team doctor Anatoly Galabin.
Galabin said that Griner never tested positive for illegal substances while she was a member of the team.
If convicted, the women’s basketball star will have an opportunity to appeal — but her family and supporters have been urging Biden push for her release.
Griner decided to plead guilty to the charges this month in hopes that it would bring leniency in her punishment.
Several weeks ago, the U.S. State Department changed Griner’s official status as “wrongfully detained” – a move that allows the federal government to seek more aggressive options in getting Americans released abroad.
Griner’s trial is expected to last until at least early August. A Russian judge has ordered her detained for the entire length of the trial.