Russia’s Khimki: After being found guilty of drug possession and smuggling for importing cannabis-infused vape cartridges into Russia, a Russian court sentenced US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in a penal colony on drug charges.
Her sentence might pave the way for a high-profile prisoner exchange between the 31-year-old athlete and an imprisoned Russian who was once a prolific weapons trader between Russia and the United States.
Griner begged the court not to “end her life” by sending her to jail for bringing in vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA standout, was sentenced to 9.5 years in jail by the prosecution.
Griner was arrested on February 17 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. She pled guilty but said she had no intention of bringing a prohibited drug into Russia or harming anybody.
Griner begged the court in a tearful speech before the judgment to recognize that she had packed the cartridges by accident.
“I made an honest mistake, and I hope that your decision does not mean the end of my life here,” Griner added.
In addition, she was fined 1 million roubles ($23,100).
The vape cartridges plunged the Texan athlete into the geopolitical frenzy that erupted on February 24 when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched soldiers into Ukraine.
Brittney Griner, WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, is led to a courthouse for a hearing in Khimki, close outside Moscow.
US President Joe Biden is under pressure to act on behalf of Americans detained in Russia in the most strained US-Russian ties since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
The United States encouraged Moscow to accept a compromise that would ensure the release of Griner and other Americans.
“This is a serious proposal.” We implore them to embrace it. They should have embraced it when we initially proposed it weeks ago,” said White House national security spokesman John Kirby, without providing any information.
According to people acquainted with the case, Washington has proposed to trade Russian weapons trafficker Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year jail term in the US, for Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan.
According to Reuters, Russia attempted to include convicted killer Vadim Krasikov, who is now imprisoned in Germany, in the planned trade.
Whelan, who has American, British, Canadian, and Irish passports, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in Russia for espionage in 2020.
During a moment of silence, WNBA players, coaches, and fans joined hands to send the basketball star strength.
Players from both teams respectfully bent their heads for 42 seconds before the Connecticut Sun defeated Griner’s club, the Phoenix Mercury, 77-64.
“Nobody wanted to play today,” Phoenix guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who led the Mercury with 16 points, said. “How do you approach the game and the court with a clear mind?” Before the game, the whole team is in tears. You attempt to honor her while still playing hard for her. Regardless of whether or not she is present. Right now, we must endeavor to keep her spirit alive.”
Biden has said that his government will continue to advocate for Griner’s release.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongful detaining Brittney,” – President Joe Biden
“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”