Release of Brittney Griner unlikely to impact U.S. - Russia relations, experts say

FILE - WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a...
FILE - WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a courtroom after a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow, on Aug. 4, 2022. Russia has freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange, with the U.S. releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.(Alexander Zemlianichenko | AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 5:35 PM CST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The Biden Administration is celebrating the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison. Griner was the most high-profile American that the U.S. State Department said was being wrongly detained in a foreign country.

William Pomeranz, the director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute and expert on U.S. and Russia relations, said a deal to bring Griner home should not be looked at as a breakthrough for long-term diplomacy.

He said, “From a diplomatic standpoint, it really hasn’t resulted in anything. The sanctions against Russia remain. The United States is not wavering in its support for Ukraine.”

The U.S. swap is a one-for-one deal for Victor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.” He is a former Soviet military leader that the U.S. Department of justice once called the world’s most prolific arms dealer.

Former Ambassador Steven Mann was nominated to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan in 1998 by former president Bill Clinton.

Mann said of the prisioner swap, “The Kremlin has been wanting to get Victor Bout out for many many years, ever since he was arrested in 2008. So they have leveraged it to free up this very very well-connected arms dealer.”

Not included in the prisoner swap was former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned by Russia for more almost four years. On Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the U.S. did not choose Griner’s release over Whelan’s.

Former ambassador Mann said Russia will continue using Whelan’s detention as leverage, and said the Biden Administration should be careful to not relax any sanctions against Russia over its attack on Ukraine in exchange for Whelan’s release.

Mann said, “I think if you go down that road, it would be a mistake. Sanctions have to stay tough.”