Update (July 28): The Kremlin said Thursday no deal between the U.S. and Russia has been reached on Brittney Griner’s release, Axios reports.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced the Biden administration had made a “substantial proposal” to bring home two wrongfully detained Americans, believed to be Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan. CNN says the U.S. offered to exchange Viktour Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker who’s serving a 25-year prison sentence.
Griner testified at her trial this week, saying she didn’t intend to break the law and doesn’t know how the vape cartridges with hashish oil were found in her luggage. She also said her rights weren’t read to her when she was arrested.
Griner pleaded guilty to criminal drug charge earlier this month, a move that experts say was a formality to expedite the legal proceedings. She could reportedly face up to 10 years in prison.
Update (July 7): Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to criminal drug charges related to allegations she attempted to move a vape pen with marijuana through the Moscow Airport. She also asserted that breaking the law was accidental.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honour,” she said. “But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”
Reports say she now faces up to 10 years in prison. Other reports say that any kind of prisoner swap that would bring Griner home would likely include a guilty plea, so that offers hope for her to come home.
Earlier this week President Joe Biden reportedly spoke with Griner’s wife and told her he’s doing what he can to bring her home, after Cherelle Griner said Biden hadn’t reached out to her. That call prompted the family of another detainee in Russian — Paul Whelan — to wonder why they have not received a similar phone call.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said freeing Griner is an “absolute priority” for the Biden Administration.
Update (May 13): Brittney Griner made her first public appearance in Russia after being detained in February, appearing in handcuffs in a court room and told her trial will be delayed for another month. Her lawyer told the Associated Press he believes her trial will happen soon. Russian media has also floated the idea of a prisoner swap, which could send Griner home in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Russia also has American Paul Whelan in detention.
Update (May 3): The U.S. now considers Brittney Griner to be “wrongfully detained” in Russia, the State Department says. That means the U.S. government will now try to negotiate her release, rather than wait for her legal case to play out.
Brittney Griner has been reportedly detained in Russia for possession of vape cartridges — essentially marijuana in liquid form — found in her luggage. She was originally arrested last month, and news of her arrest is just now becoming public, according to NBC News in Phoenix, where she plays for the Mercury.
The Mercury released this statement, according to Swish Appeal:
“We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia. We remain in constant contact with her family, her representation, the WNBA and NBA. We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, also released a statement, according to the Associated Press:
“We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA. As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”
Griner plays professionally in Russia for UMMC Ekaterinburg. She is one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time and is a seven-time WNBA All-Star. She came out publicly in 2013 after playing for Baylor, where she won a national NCAA title.
This story is developing.