Topline

A Russian court on Thursday sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison for drug possession and smuggling, after Russia made a “bad faith” response to a U.S. offer for a prisoner swap, according to the White House.

WNBA star Brittney Griner is escorted in a court room prior to a hearing, in Khimki just outside … [+] Moscow.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Key Facts

Griner also has to pay a fine of one million rubles.

The Russian court argued Griner carried out the crime “deliberately,” in its ruling, according to Reuters.

During closing arguments, Griner said she wanted to “apologize” to her teammates, her club, fans and her family for the “mistake that I made,” adding she never meant to break any laws or put the Russian population “in jeopardy.”

The ruling comes a week after Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to accept a deal to swap Griner and Paul Whelan, an American detained in Russia on espionage charges, in exchange for Russian weapons dealer Viktor Bout, a deal Russia has reportedly tried to amend to include a former colonel from Russia’s domestic spy agency convicted of murder.

Griner’s lawyers have argued she unintentionally packed the vape cartridges while in a rush and uses cannabis for medical purposes.

Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas tweeted the sentencing was “severe by Russian legal standards” and proves she is “being used as a political pawn.”

What To Watch For

In a statement, President Joe Biden said Russia’s punishment was “unacceptable” and called on the country to release her immediately, saying he “will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”

Crucial Quote

“I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here,” Griner said in closing arguments. “I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.”

Key Background

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who was detained at the airport after vape cartridges with cannabis oil were allegedly found in her luggage, pleaded guilty to drug charges on July 7. Her attorneys have argued she did not intend to break the law, showing evidence of her approval for medical marijuana use in the U.S. All use of cannabis is illegal in Russia. Griner testified before the court for the first time last week, saying she was not read her rights after being arrested, was not offered an attorney and was forced to sign papers without a translation. After pleas from Griner, her wife and other prominent figures, including NBA star Lebron James, U.S. officials announced last week they had proposed a prisoner swap in exchange for Griner, reportedly offering Bout—who has been serving a 25-year jail sentence—in exchange for Griner and Whelan, a former marine who was arrested in Moscow in 2018. Bout, who has been dubbed the “Merchant of Death,” supplied millions of Soviet-era arms and ammunition to militias and terror groups around the world.

Chief Critic

Last week John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, called Russia’s move to try to add another Russian prisoner to the swap a “bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer,” on CNN.

Further Reading

Griner should serve 9 1/2 years in prison, Russian prosecutor says (Reuters)

Russian prosecutors seek 9 1/2-year sentence for Griner (Associated Press)

CNN Exclusive: Russian officials requested adding convicted murderer to Griner/Whelan prisoner swap (CNN)

Original Source