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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    The Brittney Griner injustice gets worse

    Basketball star Brittney Griner traveled to Russia to play in the offseason for UMMC Ekaterinburg, where she has competed since 2014. The Russian government seized her, held her hostage, disrupted her life and family and turned her into a good to be traded or stored indefinitely behind bars.

    "I am determined to get her home and get her home safely," President Biden said Wednesday, following news that Russian authorities are transferring her to a penal colony. Unfortunately, Mr. Biden has only two options, both of them bad: paying a steep ransom to the Kremlin or leaving Ms. Griner in prison until the Russians relent on at least some of their demands. A prisoner exchange is a terrible choice that the president might have to make. But he should not surrender to the Kremlin's most outrageous requests.

    Russian authorities unjustly sentenced Ms. Griner to more than nine years in prison after she pleaded guilty to possessing two vape cartridges of cannabis oil. She admitted an honest mistake. An appropriate punishment would have been a fine, or to send her home. When spies are caught, they are expelled. But basketball stars are apparently worth more to the extortionists who sit in the Kremlin. They are using her as leverage against the United States as it helps Ukraine fight a Russian invasion.

    The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, announced that "the U.S. Government made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens," including Ms. Griner and another hostage, Paul Whelan. The Biden administration offered to release Viktor Bout, a Russian serving a 25-year prison term for illegal arms trading, in a swap. In subsequent weeks, Ms. Jean-Pierre said, Russia displayed "a lack of good faith negotiation."

    Russia has reportedly demanded the trade also include Vadim Krasikov, whom German prosecutors have described as a former colonel in the FSB, the Russian security service. Mr. Krasikov was convicted in December of the 2019 murder of a Georgian citizen of Chechen ethnicity, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Germany said the crime was "state-mandated murder" by Russia. Mr. Krasikov has blood on his hands and should not be part of any deal for Ms. Griner or Mr. Whelan.

    Ms. Griner just turned 32 years old and faces a bleak period ahead. Her lawyers said they do not know where she is being taken, but Russia's penal colonies are notorious for providing cold, hunger, monotony and maltreatment. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is imprisoned in one of them, another unjust imprisonment for nothing more than criticizing and opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Ms. Griner is trapped - as is Mr. Biden. Making deals with hostage takers can be treacherous and encourage more kidnapping. Yet Ms. Griner should not just be left to rot in a Russian penal colony. While making any trade, the president should remember who he is dealing with. Russia is not a state governed by the rule of law. Rather, it appears to be run by a band of muggers willing to try to take anything they fancy, from a basketball star to a whole country next door.