Russo-Ukrainian War: Breaking News – The New York Times

Credit…Pool photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko

WASHINGTON — Immediately after a Moscow judge handed down Brittney Griner’s nine-year prison sentence on Thursday, calls intensified for President Biden to find a way to bring her home, even as critics fumed that the offer to exchange prisoners with Moscow rewarded the taking of Russian hostages. .

The result is a painful dilemma for the Biden administration as it tries to maintain a hard line against Russian President Vladimir V. Putin on the war in Ukraine.

“There’s nothing good here,” said Andrea Schneider, an international dispute resolution expert at the Cardozo School of Law. “No matter what Biden does, he’s going to be criticized – either we give too much or we don’t work hard enough.”

Kremlin officials had said talks on a swap could not take place until after his trial, but even with an official verdict and sentence, a deal may not be reached anytime soon.

“I think the fact that Putin didn’t say yes right away means he looked at the American offer and said, ‘Well, that’s their first offer. I can get more than that,’” said Jared Genser, a human rights attorney who represents Americans detained by foreign governments.

The Biden administration has offered to trade Ms. Griner and Paul N. Whelan, a former Marine convicted in Moscow of espionage in 2020, for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is halfway through a sentence of 25 years in federal prison for offering to sell weapons to a Colombian rebel group that the United States then considered a terrorist organization.

Mr. Biden finds himself stuck on both sides.

On one side are Ms. Griner’s supporters. His wife, Cherelle Griner, has publicly pleaded for Mr. Biden to strike a deal with Mr. Putin as soon as possible. These calls have been echoed by the Reverend 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 accusations that Mr Biden has bowed to extortion from Mr Putin, a man he called a war criminal.

“That’s why dictatorships – like Venezuela, Iran, China, Russia – hold Americans hostage, because they know they’ll get something out of it,” said Rep. Mike Waltz, Republican from Florida, to Newsmax last week. “They know that eventually an administration will pay. And that 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 Mr Bout’s release would ‘probably lead to the arrest’ of more Americans abroad.

And former President Donald J. Trump, who is expected to run again in 2024, criticized the proposed deal in crude terms. He said Mr Bout was “absolutely one of the worst in the world, and he’s going to be released because a potentially spoiled person walks into Russia high on drugs”. (Russian officials who detained Ms Griner at a Moscow-area airport in mid-February found less than a gram of cannabis vaping oil in her bags.)

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