By Mirolla Mekaiel
Since WNBA’s Brittney Griner was arrested in February of 2022, many fans have anxiously awaited an answer regarding her prison sentence in Russia. Griner was detained in Russia after she was found possessing cannabis oil in her luggage. From her arrest to just a few weeks ago when Griner was finally released through a prisoner exchange, most were unaware of the negotiations between Russia and the Biden administration to release Griner. Through these negotiations, Russia was finally convinced to release Brittney Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer. Many were surprised to hear of the exchange and the release of Viktor Bout, a dangerous prisoner known as “The Merchant of Death.”
“Releasing Viktor Bout, also referred to as ‘The Merchant of Death,’ is just as terrible as releasing a highly dangerous criminal. He is now free to commit crimes that may be even more impactful than his last attacks,” junior Ayush Patel said.
The prisoner exchange between Griner and Bout has brought about many questions and controversies. Griner was not the only American being held in Russia; Paul Whelan, a former marine, is currently imprisoned in Russia for being suspected of spying. Although the Biden administration attempted to negotiate a prisoner exchange that included both Griner and Whelan, they were unsuccessful and were only able to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Griner.
Reproduced with permission from Wikimedia Commons
“Griner’s fame definitely played a part in the exchange. I feel celebrities, especially in our society, get held above our heads and seem to get extra care and support just because of their status," senior Peter Langone said.
Some people believe that the reason the Biden administration was persistent in negotiating a deal to bring back Griner was her following and popularity among Americans. Many believe that it is unfair for the negotiations to exclude Whelan.
“It is very sad to see Whelan being left behind in Russia. He should have been a priority to bring back, especially considering the amount of time he has been there, while Griner was only there for about ten months,” Langone said.
“Leaving Mr. Whelan behind shows the power of media and fame. This trade has definitely brought about many controversies, such as using power irresponsibly and making bad decisions for the sake of popularity,” Patel said.
Many also believe that the exchange was unfair as releasing Viktor Bout back into Russia could lead to many new dangers for the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.
“While originally I had thought that Bout was to be executed by the hands of the Russian government, I hadn’t considered the possibility of Russia using Bout’s knowledge and expertise to aid their war effort in Ukraine. The true danger here is that of the unknown and what’s next for Bout, Russia and the war in Ukraine,” Langone said.
For now, however, many Americans feel the US needs to work towards a negotiation to bring back Whelan, just like they did Griner. This solution may not only cool down the controversies that have arisen in the media, but may also prove that the US cares for all its citizens, not just the ones that may be perceived as being more influential.