On Tuesday, August 2, 2022, Brittney Griner, a WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, is brought into a courtroom before a hearing in Khimki, Russia, a city outside of Moscow.
MOSCOW, Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Thursday is the scheduled day for closing arguments in Brittney Griner’s marijuana possession case in Russia. The American basketball star was detained at a Moscow airport over six months ago, and the matter has now reached the highest echelons of U.S.-Russian diplomacy.
If found guilty, Griner could spend up to 10 years behind bars. Judges have a great deal of discretion when it comes to sentence, even though a conviction seems extremely probable given that Russian courts seldom grant prisoners acquittals and Griner has admitted that there were vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix Mercury center’s legal team has sought to support Griner’s claims that she was not acting criminally and that the canisters were accidentally packed into her luggage. In addition to written testimony from a physician who claimed to have prescribed her cannabis for pain relief, they have also called character witnesses from the Russian team she plays for outside of the WNBA.
It’s unclear when the decision will be made public. If she is not released, focus will shift to the risky prospect of a prisoner swap.
The State Department declared her to have been “wrongfully imprisoned” before her trial began in July, transferring her case under the control of its special presidential envoy for hostage matters, who serves as the nation’s top hostage negotiator.
Then, in a remarkable move last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, pleading with him to accept a settlement that would see Griner and Paul Whelan, an American who is currently detained in Russia on charges of espionage, released.
Since Russia sent soldiers into Ukraine more than five months ago, the Lavrov-Blinken call represented the highest-level of communication between Washington and Moscow that is publicly known. The U.S.’s efforts to isolate the Kremlin are at conflict with the direct outreach regarding Griner.
According to those who are familiar with the arrangement, Griner and Whelan would be exchanged for infamous arms dealer Viktor Bout. It highlights the public pressure the White House has experienced in order to secure Griner’s release.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the press secretary for the White House, told reporters on Monday that Russia’s counteroffer to the U.S. government’s offer was made in “poor faith,” and that American officials did not take it seriously. She didn’t go into more detail.
U.S. statements regarding the case have been mocked by Russian officials, who claim they display a disregard for Russian law. They urged Washington to discuss the matter in “quiet diplomacy without leaks of speculative material” while maintaining their poker faces.