After Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years for drug trafficking, Russia said it was ready to discuss a possible prisoner exchange. This Friday, Sergei Lavrov, the European country’s Foreign Minister, said that Moscow was open to talks with the United States on the matter. The WNBA star has been stuck in Russia since February.
– We are ready to discuss the matter, but only within the communication window established between Presidents (Vladimir) Putin and (Joe) Biden. There is a special channel established by the president and, despite some public statements, it is still working – said Lavrov, during a press conference on a visit to Cambodia.
Brittney Griner arrives in court for a hearing – Photo: Reuters
The possible prisoner exchange has been under discussion for a few weeks now. Russia even denied the chance after the talks became public. The US government made an official proposal to the Russians that involved exchanging arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Paul Whelan, a former US sailor arrested on suspicion of spying in 2018.
Viktor Bout was sentenced to 25 years in a US federal prison for “conspiring to sell guns to people who want to kill Americans”. The Russian government points to political motivation in condemning the “Merchant of Death”, as he is known. He inspired the main character of the movie “Lord of Arms” starring Nicolas Cage in 2005.
The Russian court found Brittney Griner guilty of drug trafficking with criminal intent. After a lengthy trial, the court ruled on the WNBA player’s status this Thursday. In the final verdict, the athlete was sentenced to nine years in prison, in addition to a fine of 1 million rubles, about R$85,650.
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The Russian prosecution had asked for a nine-and-a-half-year prison sentence for Griner. After reading the final verdict, an almost maximum sentence was defined for the player. According to the judge, she will have to serve her sentence in a penal colony in Russia. Griner’s defense said she will protest the verdict.
– We are very disappointed with the verdict. As lawyers, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone, regardless of nationality. The court completely ignored all of the defense’s evidence and, most importantly, the guilty plea.
Brittney Griner — Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images
During the trial, Griner stated that he had no intention of trafficking drugs to Russia. She has defended UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014 during WNBA breaks. According to her, medical marijuana would be to treat her chronic injuries.
– I made an honest mistake. And I hope, by your laws, you don’t end my life here,” Griner said.
Biden says verdict is ‘unacceptable’
US President Joe Biden released a statement shortly after the sentencing. According to the ruler, Griner’s verdict is “unacceptable”.
– Today, US citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is yet another reminder of what the world already knows: Russia is holding Brittney the wrong way. It is unacceptable, and I say to Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possibility to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan (US citizen arrested in 2018 on spying charges) home safely as soon as possible,” she said.
On March 5, 2022, the Russian Federal Customs Department announced that in February it had detained a US athlete at Sheremetyevo airport, outside Moscow. She would be carrying a cannabis derivative in liquid form, authorized in almost all US territory, but banned in Russia. The athlete in question was Brittney Griner, star of the WNBA.
Griner has been in detention ever since and a criminal case has been opened for drug transport and international trafficking. According to the statement from the customs service, a criminal case was opened on the grounds of “large-scale transport of drugs”. The penalty for such cases can reach ten years in prison.
Why was Griner in Russia?
Phoenix Mercury athlete Brittney – as well as other US athletes – often play in the Russian League in the months when the WNBA is on recess. Griner has defended local teams since 2015 and usually earns more than a million dollars a season, values above what she receives in the American competition itself. Her last official game for Ekaterinburg was on January 29th.
In early July, BG pleaded guilty but denied that it was intentional. The statement came after the pivot wrote a letter to US President Joe Biden urging him to step up US efforts to get her back home.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, the Olympic uniform or any accomplishments, I am terrified that I could stay here forever,” Griner said in excerpts from the letter. addressed to the White House disclosed by their representatives.