After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the belief that the coming years would represent the consolidation of liberal democracies spread around the world. Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist, political economist, and writer, even spoke of the end of history and a more predictable and golden future for humanity. The relationship between the United States and the young Russian Federation began with optimism and a desire to leave old rivalries behind, but with the new century, the cordiality waned.
As the years went by, Russia was recovering its military power, it intended to dust off the influence and hegemony it once had through a nationalist and conservative discourse, a bastion of national pride that would elevate this nation to the status of power. Civil rights and individual liberties took a back seat to "national interest."
The American basketball player, Brittney Griner, the case takes a new light on this context. Considered one of the best athletes in the world, a WNBA star, of African descent, and a member of the LGBTIQ+ community. During a trip to Moscow to play, she did not realize that she had left some medical cannabis oil in her vaporizer, an oversight that would change her life forever, and bring to light old rivalries between Russia and the United States. A week after Griner's arrest, the Russian Ukraine invasion began with the intention to prevent its Western antagonists from advancing through an area consider of interest. Thus, the world turned its gaze toward a promising young athlete not for her outstanding performance in her sport, but for becoming a victim of a lagging judicial system oblivious to the injustice being committed.
However, long before the sentencing of Brittney Griner to 9 years in prison in Russia was made public, the U.S. government was already considering the option of a prisoner exchange. An initiative that would benefit Paul Whelan, a former Marine convicted of espionage, on a trip to visit friends in Russia.
After hearing the news of Griner's 9-year prison sentence, current U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said, "This is a very significant shift with the Russian legal system and the government's use of improper detentions to advance its agenda, using people as political pawns."
A Prisoner Exchange Marked by Two Opposing Worldviews
As soon as Griner's arrest took place, just a week before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the world was shocked, and the need for a prisoner exchange appeared on the table. Viktor Bout, sentenced to 25 years in prison in the United States for illegal arms trafficking, known as "the merchant of death", who supplied weapons to the FARC, was proposed as one of the candidates for the exchange. Before his capture in Bangkok in 2008, he was a prominent member of the Red Army.
The case marked public opinion, generating a moral and ethical debate about the injustice done to Brittney Griner in Russia, and whose most viable option to repair it requires the release of a criminal who is indirectly linked to the kidnapping and death of several people. Two sides of the coin with antagonistic worldviews.
On one hand, a country that links Griner with Western decadence and views her as a criminal deserving to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. On the other hand, the United States will have to release an international criminal to restore the freedom of a promising young athlete in his country and the world.
After the sentencing, the Russian government favored discussing the possibility of a prisoner exchange. Confirmed by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, whose government was waiting for the sentence to start negotiations, and most probably it will take place. However, Russia is considering including the Chechen prisoner Vadim Krasikov in the exchange.
These rapprochements are taking place amid tensions between Russia and the United States because of the war in Ukraine, generating mixed feelings worldwide, something not seen since the Cold War.