Russian court sentences Brittney Griner to nine years in prison

Russian prosecutors have sentenced US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison for drug trafficking, raising the stakes for a proposed prisoner swap between the two countries.

The lengthy prison sentence comes after the United States has stepped up efforts in recent weeks to secure the release of Griner and other Americans detained in Russia, as tensions with Moscow continue to simmer over its invasion of Russia. ‘Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden was quick to slam the decision Thursday, saying, “Brittney Griner has been given a prison sentence that is yet another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. This is unacceptable.

Biden added that his administration will “pursue every avenue possible” to free Griner and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan.

Prosecutors had requested a prison sentence of nine years and six months after Griner pleaded guilty to drug trafficking. Lawyers for the basketball star, who was also fined Rbs 1 million, or about $16,000, said they intended to appeal.

“The verdict is absolutely unreasonable,” said Griner’s defense attorneys, Maria Blagovolina, partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners, and Alexander Boykov of the Moscow Law Center. “The court completely ignored all of the defense evidence, and most importantly, the guilty plea.”

Russia has said it is ready to discuss further prisoner swaps with the United States after swapping former US sailor Trevor Reed for convicted drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshchenko earlier this year.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a bid to secure Griner’s release in the officials’ first conversation since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion. of Ukraine in February.

The United States has offered to trade Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year sentence, for Griner and Whelan, who are in prison for espionage, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Blinken and Lavrov are in Cambodia at a meeting of Southeast Asian nations. Blinken should try to talk to Lavrov about Griner’s sentencing, a White House spokesperson said.

“I have no doubt that if he gets the chance to button Mr. Lavrov, he will. And if he doesn’t, if it doesn’t happen organically, I’m sure Secretary Blinken will tend hand and will have this communication,” John Kirby, a spokesman for the United States National Security Council, said on MSNBC Thursday.

Police arrested Griner after she claimed they found vape cartridges containing traces of hash oil in her luggage when she entered Russia in February, weeks before Moscow invaded Ukraine.

Griner told the court that she smuggled the drugs into the country by mistake and had a prescription for medical marijuana to ease the pain of sports injuries.

NBA and WNBA commissioners Adam Silver and Cathy Engelbert called Thursday’s verdict “unwarranted and unfortunate, but not unexpected,” adding that “we hope we are nearing the end of this process to finally bring back BG at home”. United States”.

Griner’s U.S.-based agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said on Twitter on Thursday that the verdict proved Griner was “used as a political pawn.” She thanked the White House and the State Department for their continued diplomatic efforts.

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