WASHINGTON — Immediately after a Russian judge handed down Brittney Griner's nine-year prison sentence on Thursday, calls grew louder for President Biden to find a way to bring her home, even as critics fumed that offering to swap prisoners with Moscow rewarded Russian hostage-taking. The result is a painful moment for the Biden administration as it attempts to maintain a hard line against President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia over the war in Ukraine. Andrea Schneider, an expert on international conflict resolution at the Cardozo School of Law, said there was nothing good here. No matter what Biden does, he is going to be criticized - either that we are giving too much or we are not working hard enough. I think that the fact that Putin has not said yes right away means that he looked at the U.S. offer and said, Well, that is their first offer. "I can get more than that," said Jared Genser, a human rights lawyer who represents Americans held by foreign governments. The Biden administration proposed to trade Ms. Griner and Paul N. Whelan, a former Marine convicted in Moscow of espionage in 2020, for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is about halfway through a 25 year federal prison sentence for offering to sell arms to a Colombian rebel group that the United States considered a terrorist organization. Biden finds himself squeezed from two sides. On the other side are supporters of Ms. Griner. Her wife, Cherelle Griner, has made public pleas for Mr. Biden to cut a deal with Mr. Putin as soon as possible. The Rev. of the Rev. has echoed those pleas. Al Sharpton, Democratic activist groups, television pundits, pro athletes and celebrities on social media. But there has also been criticism from Mr. Biden's other flank and charges that Mr. Biden has been bending to extortion by Mr. Putin, a man he has called a war criminal.
This is why dictatorships like Venezuela, Iran, China, Russia take Americans hostage because they know they will get something for them, Rep. Mike Waltz, Republican of Florida, told Newsmax last week. They know that some administration will pay. This 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 that to free Mr. Bout would lead to more Americans being arrested abroad. Former President Donald J. Trump, who is likely to run again in 2024, slammed the proposed deal in crude terms. He said something. Bout was one of the worst in the world, and he's going to be given his freedom because a potentially spoiled person goes into Russia loaded up with drugs. Russian officials who detained Ms. Griner at a Moscow-area airport in mid-February found less than a gram of vape oil in her bags.