Brittney Griner, a US basketball player, entered a guilty plea to a narcotics charge in a Russian court.
Ms. Griner claims she had “no desire” to violate the law and has written directly to President Joe Biden pleading for him to intensify US efforts to return her to the country.
She has changed from a successful sports star to a potential negotiating chip in President Vladimir Putin’s standoff with the West in the current political context, where the US has sanctioned Russia after its military invasion of Ukraine.
Ms. Griner might spend up to 10 years in prison at this time.
Here’s to know more.
Who is Brittney Griner?
Ms. Griner, also known as “BG” to basketball fans, is one of the most recognizable figures in American basketball. She stands 205 centimeters tall and has won two Olympic gold medals. She now fills in at center for the Phoenix Mercury.
She is a fervent supporter of LGBT rights.
According to basketball journalist and author Tamryn Spruill, Ms. Griner is a “icon” of the sport whose candor about her sexuality led to long-lasting changes in how the sport handles LGBT athletes.
What happened to her?
Ms. Griner has been traveling to Russia to play for a Russian team during the WNBA’s off-season for the past seven years, earning an additional $US1 million ($1.36 million) per season in the process.
She traveled abroad earlier this year in quest of her pay check, as she does every year. But her journey didn’t go as she had hoped.
On March 6, Russian Customs officers announced that they had detained an athlete who had flown from New York on an aircraft that arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17.
The organization made public a video purportedly documenting the security check of a “US citizen, two-time Olympic basketball champion.”
Ms. Griner was there.
In a statement, the Russians said they had initiated a criminal prosecution after discovering vape cartridges in her luggage that included “liquid with hashish oil,” a material that is prohibited in Russia. Since then, Ms. Griner has been in detention.
She has since begged Mr. Biden to obtain her release. She even wrote him a personal note.
I’m scared that I might spend the rest of my life in this Russian prison, “alone with my thoughts and without the safety of my wife, family, friends, Olympic shirt, or any accomplishments.” She wrote,
“I realise you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home”.
Mr. Biden declared that he was using “every effort” to return Ms. Griner to her family.
On July 6, Ms. Griner went before a Russian court.
She spoke to the judge, “Your honor, I’d want to plead guilty.”
“But no intention was present. I was reluctant to violate the law.”
Why is this a global problem?
Timing is everything.
When tensions between Moscow and Washington boiled over, according to the Russians, Ms. Griner was detained less than a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Wide-ranging sanctions had been placed by the US on Moscow, and as American armaments poured into Ukraine, Russia had threatened nuclear war.
Some experts are concerned that Ms. Griner is currently involved in a far larger geopolitical conflict.
There is concern that she could become a “pawn” in a new cold war with the Kremlin.
Tom Firestone, a Washington-based attorney who spent eight years working for the Department of Justice in the US embassy in Moscow, told the ABC that the situation was “very serious.”
“The current political situation makes her situation much worse.”
Especially if, as the Russians claim, Ms. Griner’s arrest took place on February 17, before to Russia’s invasion on February 24, Mr. Firestone said he was unsure whether Ms. Griner’s arrest was related to the situation in Ukraine.
He added that Ms. Griner might not receive the same treatment as other prisoners due to the current political climate.
“Police may pay particular attention to that. Because she is an American, they might be less willing to drop the case or strike a plea deal with her “explained he.
What happens next?
That remains unclear.
On July 14, the following court date, Ms. Griner is anticipated to give a testimony.
The Kremlin and the US have discussed the possibility of exchanging prisoners, but a senior Russian official said no action could be taken until the matter was resolved.
Following the announcement of the conviction, Ms. Griner may file an appeal or request clemency, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The Phoenix Mercury declare that they “love and support Brittney” and that their top priority is ensuring her safe return to her family.