WNBA superstar Brittney Griner has been in the news recently for essentially becoming a political pawn used by Russia in its feud with the United States, which was only aggravated after she died on Feb. 17, a week before the full-scale invasion of Russia, was arrested in Moscow Ukraine. According to the New York Times, Russia’s Federal Customs Service claimed that she was carrying less than a gram of cannabis oil, a substance illegal in Russia. (She had been prescribed medical marijuana in Arizona for chronic pain.) In July, she pleaded guilty in what was widely regarded as a show trial. On August 4, she was sentenced to nine years in prison and a fine of one million rubles.
In response to the invasion of Ukraine, the United States, along with other Western powers, has imposed numerous sanctions on Russia since February, leading many to describe Griner as a “high-profile hostage” used by Russia and President Vladimir Putin Griner’s race and sexuality — she’s black and lesbian — have caused many to be increasingly concerned about how the former basketball star is being treated by a government known for its repression of human rights, particularly towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Now, after months of diplomatic efforts, Griner’s fate may lie in the hands of a Russian arms dealer many may associate with American actor Nicolas Cage.
Brittney Griner’s fate could be in the hands of a notorious international arms dealer
Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer from Russia who has been dubbed the “Lord of War” and “Merchant of Death,” is back in the news for arguably being the key to Brittney Griner’s release.
According to The Guardian, Bout, who was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the United States in 2010, used a vast stockpile of weapons and transport material left over from the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s to sell to numerous criminals and authoritarians leaders around the world. According to the New York Times, these included Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, as well as the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In 2011, he was convicted of numerous conspiracies and began serving a 25-year sentence.
Bout’s influence was so notorious that it even resulted in a 2005 film inspired by his life, aptly titled Lord of War, in which the main character, Yuri Orlov, was portrayed by Nicolas Cage. In July, President Joe Biden officially offered Bout in exchange for Griner and Paul Whelan, another American political prisoner jailed in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges, though no deal has been finalized. Now the fate of Griner, Whelan and Bout rests in the hands of Biden, Vladimir Putin and diplomatic officials, who will almost certainly continue to negotiate until an official settlement is finally reached.