WASHINGTON — Immediately after a Moscow judge on Thursday handed down Brittney Griner’s nine-year prison term, calls for President Biden to find a way to take her home grew louder, even as critics were outraged that the offer to detain prisoners to trade with Moscow rewarded the Russian hostage.
The result is a painful dilemma for the Biden administration, which is trying to maintain a hard line against Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin over the war in Ukraine.
“There’s nothing good here,” said Andrea Schneider, an international conflict resolution expert at Cardozo School of Law. “Whatever Biden does, he will be criticized – either for giving too much or for not working hard enough.”
Kremlin officials had said talks over an exchange could not continue until her trial was completed, but even with an official verdict and verdict, a deal may not be forthcoming anytime soon.
“I think the fact that Putin didn’t say yes right away means he looked at the US offer and said, ‘Well, that’s their first offer. I can get more than that,'” said Jared Genser. , a human rights lawyer representing Americans detained by foreign governments.
The Biden administration proposed to trade Ms. Griner and Paul N. Whelan, a former Marine convicted of spying in Moscow in 2020, for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for offering of sales. weapons to a Colombian rebel group that the United States then considered a terrorist organization.
Mr Biden is being squeezed from both sides.
On one side are Mrs. Griner’s supporters. Her wife, Cherelle Griner, has publicly urged Biden to make a deal with Putin as soon as possible. Those pleas were echoed by Rev. Al Sharpton, Democratic activist groups, television pundits, professional athletes and social media celebrities.
But there has also been criticism from Mr Biden’s other flank – and allegations that Mr Biden has bowed to extortion by Mr Putin, a man he has called a war criminal.
“This is why dictatorships – like Venezuela, Iran, China, Russia – are taking Americans hostage, because they know they will get something for it,” Rep. Florida Republican Mike Waltz told Newsmax last week. “They know that eventually some administration will pay. And this just puts a target on the back of every American out there.
Mike Pompeo, the former Secretary of State, echoed the criticism in a Fox News interview last week, saying the release of Mr. Bolt “would probably lead to more” Americans being arrested abroad.
And former President Donald J. Trump, who is likely to rejoin in 2024, slammed the proposed deal roughly. He said that Mr. Bolt was “definitely one of the worst in the world, and that he will get his freedom because a potentially spoiled person full of drugs enters Russia.” (Russian officials who stopped Ms. Griner at an airport near Moscow in mid-February found less than one gram of cannabis vape oil in her bags.)