Brittney Griner’s sentencing highlights strained US-Russia relations


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Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving asked the question so many people were wondering Thursday morning: What’s going on with Brittney Griner?

On Thursday, a Russian court ruled the WNBA star guilty of drug charges months after she was arrested at a Moscow airport with vaping cartridges containing hash oil found in her belongings. Griner pleaded guilty to the charges last month, but maintained she had no intention of bringing an illegal substance into the country.

The US government has maintained that Griner was ‘wrongfully detained’ and presented the Kremlin with a “substantial proposal” to bring her and American Paul Whelan home.

WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, sits in the defendants’ cage following the court’s verdict during a hearing in Khimki, near of Moscow, on August 4, 2022.
(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Legally, his lawyers said they would appeal the verdict which they called “absolutely unreasonable”.

NBA, WNBA CALLING BRITTNEY GRINER’S SENTENCE ‘UNJUSTIFIED AND UNFORTUNATE’, SPORTS WORLD RESPONDS

But, while the tensions between the United States and Russia continue to be tense amid the conflict in Ukraine, the timing and likelihood of Griner’s release remains unknown.

“I think we have to recognize that a foreign jurisdiction has leveraged its processes to handle a convicted defendant,” said Hugh Dugan, a longtime American scholar and diplomat who served as the president’s special envoy for hostage cases under the Trump administration. Fox News Digital of the complexities of negotiating a deal.

“To continue to assert wrongful detention would require the White House to demonstrate how its nationality played into the outcome of this case and whether there are other pressures exerted on the White House by Russia and in conjunction with foreign policy issues.”

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner stands in the defendants' cage outside a court during her drug trafficking trial in Khimki, near Moscow, August 2, 2022.

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner stands in the defendants’ cage outside a court during her drug trafficking trial in Khimki, near Moscow, August 2, 2022.
(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Dugan continued: “Wrongful detention should involve a substantial component of prejudice to the accused based on nationality, specifically, in this case, US nationality. The White House would have to demonstrate that in fact there was an effect of leverage exercised by Russia on this matter strictly because of the foreign nationality of the defendant and that there was an effort to protect other national interests by Russia through this situation.”

President Biden released a statement Thursday calling the trial and subsequent sentence “unacceptable.”

BRITTNEY GRINER PLEADS GUILTY IN RUSSIA, BUT EXPERTS WARN NEXT STEPS MAY HAVE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES

“Today, U.S. citizen Brittney Griner was sentenced to a prison sentence that serves as yet another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia wrongfully detains Brittney,” Biden said in a statement.

“This is unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be with her wife, relatives, friends and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and seek all possible means to get Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”

But Dugan warned that such rhetoric could complicate negotiations.

President Biden is seen at Camp David in Maryland during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 12, 2022.

President Biden is seen at Camp David in Maryland during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 12, 2022.
(White House)

“The White House continues to be concerned and interested in a speedy resolution, [but] as to how Russia will accept White House overtures is another matter, and I think the President’s continued reference to wrongful detention at this point can only make Russia cringe. »

Rebekah Koffler, a former Russian-born US intelligence officer and expert on Russia and Vladimir Putin, echoed that sentiment, saying the process is likely to be protracted by political differences.

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“Brittney Griner’s appeal, which her Russian lawyers have said they will pursue, will almost certainly be dismissed. Only after the completion of the pro forma court process can the real deal be discussed between Moscow and Washington,” she said Thursday.

“Given that the positions of Moscow and Washington are currently irreconcilable – the former sees Ms Griner as a criminal who deserves a near maximum sentence for drug trafficking and the latter believes she is ‘wrongfully detained’ by Russia – it promises to be a long and protracted affair in which Vladimir Putin’s regime holds all the cards and the Biden administration almost none.”

A Russian court has found WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of smuggling and stockpiling narcotics after prosecutors sought a nine-and-a-half-year prison sentence for the athlete.

A Russian court has found WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of smuggling and stockpiling narcotics after prosecutors sought a nine-and-a-half-year prison sentence for the athlete.
(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed last week that the Biden administration has made a “substantial proposal” for the return of basketball player and fellow American Paul Whelan.

A prisoner swap has not been confirmed by the White House, but reports suggest that Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Death Merchant”, could be a key part of this deal.

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Bout is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States after being found guilty of conspiring to kill American citizens and aiding a terrorist organization, raising concerns about the proportionality of their crimes in relation to a deal “equitable”, but as Dugan explains, this concern is apparently less important as the situation evolves.

Suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout walks past temporary cells ahead of a hearing at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand August 20, 2010.

Suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout walks past temporary cells ahead of a hearing at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand August 20, 2010.
(Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images)

“The point is that these humans become commoditized on either side and the conditions for recovery are rarely, if ever, related to the severity of the situation that brought them into captivity,” he said.

“An analogy I’ve considered is that if you were playing chess with me and my pieces were solid gold and yours were plastic, it wouldn’t determine the outcome of the game. The same dynamic is at work in terms of who plays, how, what and when. The intrinsic value of the pieces is anecdotal or incidental and in no way will handicap a team.”


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