WASHINGTON — Immediately after Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Moscow judge Thursday, calls grew louder for President Biden to find a way to bring her home, even as critics decried that the offer prisoner swap with Moscow rewarded the Russian hostage. .
The result is a painful dilemma for the Biden administration as it tries to maintain a hard line against President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia over the war in Ukraine.
“There is nothing good here,” said Andrea Schneider, an expert in international conflict resolution at the Cardozo School of Law. “No matter what Biden does, he’s going to be criticized — either that we’re giving too much or we’re not working hard enough.”
Kremlin officials had said exchange talks could not proceed before her trial was over, but even with an official verdict and sentence, a deal may not happen soon.
“I think the fact that Putin didn’t say yes right away means he looked at the US offer and said, ‘Well, this is their first offer. I can take more than that,” said Jared Genser, a human rights lawyer who represents Americans detained by foreign governments.
The Biden administration has proposed swapping 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 25-year federal prison sentence for offering to sell . weapons to a Colombian guerrilla group that the United States then considered a terrorist organization.
Mr. Biden is being squeezed from two sides.
On one side are Ms. Griner’s supporters. Her wife, Cheryl Griner, has made public calls for Mr. Biden to cut a deal with Mr. Putin as soon as possible. These calls have been echoed by the Reverend Al Sharpton, pro-democracy activist groups, TV pundits, professional athletes and social media celebrities.
But there has also been criticism from the other side of Mr. Biden — and accusations that Mr. Biden is bending to blackmail from Mr. Putin, a man he has called a war criminal.
“That’s why dictatorships — like Venezuela, Iran, China, Russia — take Americans hostage, because they know they’re going to get something for it,” Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Florida, told Newsmax last week. “They know that eventually some administration will pay. And that just puts a target on the back of every American out there.”
Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state, repeated the criticism in an interview with Fox News last week, saying Mr. Bout’s release would “probably lead to the arrest” of more Americans overseas.
And former President Donald J. Trump, who is likely to run again in 2024, criticized the proposed deal in blunt terms. He said Mr Bout was “absolutely one of the worst in the world and he will be given freedom because a potentially depraved person goes to Russia loaded with drugs”. (Russian officials who arrested Ms Griner at a Moscow airport in mid-February found less than a gram of cannabis vapor oil in her bags.)