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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Bringing Brittney Griner Home

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on August 18, 2022

On July 31, 2022, I published an article on the lessons the nation has learned from the Brittney Griner case. Ms. Griner, a well-known WNBA star, was found guilty of violating Russian drug possession laws for bringing vape cartridges containing cannabis with her when she flew into Moscow. Griner was sentenced earlier this month to nine years in a Russian prison.

The Joe Biden administration has tried to negotiate a prisoner swap for Griner and former Marine Paul Whalen. In 2018, Russian officials arrested Whalen on espionage charges and sentenced him to 16 years in prison following his trial. Little progress has been made on Biden's prisoner swap proposal.

Ms. Griner is being held in a detention center near Moscow and is awaiting transport to a female-only penal colony.

Brittney Griner's imprisonment has been on my mind since I published my July 31st article. I am very impressed with the poise and dignity Ms. Griner has shown under extreme adversity and duress. Nothing is worse than being imprisoned in a foreign country under highly questionable circumstances, particularly when the United States is engaged in a proxy war with the country that is detaining the American in question.

This case is further complicated by the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not respect President Joe Biden. Putin sized-up Biden during their 2021 summer meeting in Switzerland and concluded that Biden is weak. Since this meeting, every country that is in an adversarial posture to the United States, whether big or small, has openly disrespected America on the world stage.

Beginning on September 1, 2022, I am going to make an effort to obtain the release of Brittney Griner. Since 2007, I have worked in 47 countries and developed a very diverse network of powerful international business friends and associates. I am also very familiar with the Russian state-owned energy companies and the other members of the Montreux Energy Roundtable. I believe my friends and business associates in the African oil and gas sector can be extremely helpful in getting Ms. Griner home. The Russians have substantial oil and gas assets on the African continent and they are always seeking additional reserves of oil and gas in the region.

I believe it is possible to structure an energy-related transaction in Africa that results in Ms. Griner's freedom from Russian captivity. I also believe that my circle of friends and business associates in the African oil and gas sector are uniquely positioned to help bring Brittney Griner home.

For me, sitting around and doing nothing is not an acceptable option for Ms. Griner's delicate international situation. We may not be able to free Paul Whalen because his situation is far more complicated than Brittney's. Whalen was a soldier whom the Russians believe was engaged in espionage activities. In Russia and the United States, Ms. Griner is a professional athlete only. She is not involved in any real or perceived espionage activities. The crime Griner pled guilty to committing does not threaten or adversely impact Russia's national security in any way.

The Biden administration's effort to bootstrap Whalen's release to Griner's is unfair to Griner. These two prisoners fall into two vastly different categories of crimes.

To be clear, I am undertaking this effort for Brittney Griner, not the United States government. Years ago, I assisted the United States government with matters of national security on two different occasions on the African continent. After America obtained the results it desired, other elements of the government demonstrated to me that my help was not truly appreciated by my country.

What is more, every country in Africa was colonized for hundreds of years. African leaders do not have a high regard for those Americans who continue to weaponize the institutions of government that advanced and protected racial apartheid in the United States. Throughout the African continent, for example, Birmingham, Alabama is still viewed as the apartheid-era's "Johannesburg of the South" and the place where four little black girls were killed in a 1963 church bombing. Unfortunately, Alabama's all-white cadre of state constitutional officials today still projects a modern-day version of apartheid in the state's business and political affairs.

African leaders are also very familiar with the detestable role the FBI's field offices in Alabama played in the Bureau's COINTELPRO program (1956 to 1971) under FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The disgraced former FBI Director's name is splashed across the Bureau's Washington, D.C. headquarters today.

Unlike blacks in the United States, business leaders in developed African countries control trillions of dollars in natural resources, liquid assets, and wealth on major international stock exchanges. Much of this wealth is derived from the oil and gas energy sector.

Former president Donald Trump called the African nation that is best positioned to help free Brittney Griner a "shithole country" without any knowledge of this country's history, heritage, independence movement, present-day governance, or multi-ethnic culture. Trump and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, displayed an ignorance of African history and a patronizing view of Africans in general that has set U.S.-African relations back by 50 years.

If someone in America has a better idea on how to free Brittney Griner between today and August 31, 2022, they should contact and let me know. I have waited since mid-February for someone with effective skills in international relations with Russia to go to Moscow and bring Ms. Griner home. Nobody has done so.

I understand fully what it is like to wait for someone to free you from captivity in a situation where you have been wrongfully imprisoned. In Ms. Griner's circumstance, I am more interested in focused action that frees her than White House political soundbites.

I do not seek, want, or expect anything from the United States government or the Griner family in return for helping to bring Brittney Griner home. I just want Ms. Griner freed and back home with her family and friends.

IMAGE: Brittney Griner

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