American basketball player Britney Grenier hostage to Russian diplomacy?

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American basketball player Britney Grenier, who was tried in Russia for drug smuggling, is not the only foreigner imprisoned by Moscow in difficult circumstances. Is Russia building a pool of international prisoners to trade as diplomatic pawns?

The schedule is puzzling. American basketball player Britney Grenier has been held in a Russian prison since February 2022, when the Russian Federal Customs Service said it had discovered an e-cigarette liquid containing cannabis in his bags upon her arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, from New York. A week later, the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops began.

In the United States, many commentators see the arrest of the 31-year-old hero as a political maneuver by Russia and have described it as a “show trial,” a hearing of Britney Greiner before the Khimki court, in the suburbs of Moscow ever since. 1Verse July. A trial during which the American star pleaded guilty, Thursday, July 7, to a drug smuggling charge. She faces up to ten years in prison.

“This is a time of heightened tension between Russia and the United States,” said Ben Noble, a professor at University College London who specializes in Russian politics. “It may or may not have been politically motivated Britney Greiner’s arrest, but either way this case has become a politicized one.”

Overcrowded dungeon and lack of privacy

“I’m terrified to stay here forever,” Britney Greiner wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden on July 4, after already spending five months behind bars. “Please don’t forget me and the other American detainees. Do whatever you can to get us home.”

The head of US diplomacy, Anthony Blinken, responded on Twitter that the US would not know “any respite” until the basketball champion and “all other unjustly detained Americans” are released.

As with other prisoners, Britney Grenier’s detention conditions are harsh: overcrowded cells, poor beds, limited showers, and communal toilets. But the ordeal does not stop there. There is little hope for a fair trial in most cases, said Natalia Prilutskaya, Russia researcher at Amnesty International.

After trial, those found guilty are sent to punishment colonies where conditions are not much better – forced labor, minimal infrastructure and a lack of medical care are common.

Two Americans, four Britons and one Moroccan

Britney Greiner isn’t the only foreign inmate in this case. Former US Marine Paul Whelan, imprisoned in Russia since 2018, is currently serving a 16-year sentence for espionage – a charge he and US officials continue to deny.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, condemnations of foreigners have doubled. Four Britons and a Moroccan were imprisoned on Ukrainian soil and convicted by Russian courts of fighting as mercenaries. Three of them were sentenced to death.

It is difficult to know the exact circumstances of the detention of these aliens. “There are penal colonies in which foreign nationals are held in conditions that may be more flexible, but not necessarily,” said Natalia Prilutskaya. “Especially if the authorities want to put pressure on a particular detainee or use him as a pawn.”

Long and meticulous diplomatic work

In Britney Greiner’s case, her status as an outstanding athlete could make her a particularly valuable prisoner, and the United States could pay for it to have her repatriated. “She may be viewed by Russian political leaders as a potential candidate for a prisoner exchange, including against Russian national Victor Bout, a convicted arms smuggler imprisoned in the United States,” Ben Noble said.

A similar exchange occurred in April 2022, when American Trevor Reed was released in exchange for a Russian citizen who was being held in an American prison for drug trafficking. The former marine was sentenced to nine years in prison for endangering the “life and health” of Russian police officers, a charge he and US officials denied. He was held for nearly three years before being released after what the White House described as “months and months of hard, painstaking work.”

That may be the only hope for Britney Greiner and the other prisoners today, but it takes a lot of patience, despite the White House’s July 5 pledge to do “everything in its power” to secure the release of basketball player and Paul Whelan. .

According to Ben Noble, it is not certain that the Russian authorities intend to detain other foreign nationals for political purposes, but in any case, trips to Russia are no longer plentiful. He said that “Britney Grenier’s case may deter foreign nationals from setting foot on Russian soil for fear of the same fate.”

This article was excerpted from English by Bahr Makoy. Click here to find the original text.

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