Is Brittney Griner's guilty plea in Russia a step towards the WNBA star's freedom?

MOSCOW — When Brittney Griner pleaded guilty Thursday to drug possession in a Russian court, hopes were raised that his months in detention could end soon, either through a US-Russian prisoner swap or a pardon from President Vladimir Putin.

But Russian courts are often slow to move, Russian resentment over the high-profile case could block a deal and the fate of an American jailed for espionage could be critical to Griner’s release.

Here’s a look at the case against the basketball star and its complications.

Griner, a prominent player for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were allegedly found in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison on large-scale drug transportation charges.

She pleaded guilty Thursday at the second session of her trial, but said she had no criminal intent and the boats were there because she had packed them in haste.

Griner’s admission secures a conviction, but it may not come quickly. The next trial session is set for July 14 and it is unclear if that will conclude the testimony.

Even if it did, the verdict would not come immediately: Russian court verdicts are not simple pronouncements, but painstakingly detailed summaries of testimony and evidence, which are time-consuming to prepare and can take hours to read aloud.

If the court accepts Griner’s claim that she was careless rather than criminal, it could give her a suspended sentence. Suspended sentences can also have political momentum, as when opposition leader Alexei Navalny received one in an embezzlement case. However, that could force her to stay in the country.

A conviction would be a prerequisite for organizing a prisoner exchange. It would also allow Griner to apply for a presidential pardon.

“It is clear that we have not carried out the necessary judicial procedures. Until this happens, there are no nominal, formal or procedural grounds for further action, not to mention anything else,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday.

Russian media constantly suggest that Griner could be traded for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US for conspiracy to kill US citizens and provide aid to a terrorist organization. Russia has campaigned for Bout’s release for years. But the stark discrepancy between Griner’s cannabis offense and Bout’s global deals in deadly weapons could make that exchange unpalatable to Washington.

The United States has agreed to asymmetric exchanges with Russia before. In 2010, the United States traded 10 Russian “sleeper agents,” including the glamorous Anna Chapman, for four Americans who confessed to spying.

In April there was a numerically equivalent exchange but of prisoners serving remarkably different sentences. American Trevor Reed, convicted of assaulting a police officer while intoxicated, was swapped for Konstantin Yaroshenko, who is serving a 20-year sentence for extensive cocaine trafficking.

Although Russia has been eager for Bout’s release, Ryabkov complained that “attempts by the American side to make noise in public… do not help the practical solution of problems.”

Whelan, a corporate security executive, was arrested in Moscow in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage. The case has been less publicized than Griner’s, but after the Reed-Yaroshenko trade, the United States would be under pressure to avoid another one-for-one trade that doesn’t include Whelan.

However, because Whelan’s espionage conviction is more serious and longer-term than what Griner faces, that could balance an equation that would make it conceivable to trade them both for Bout.

“The United States needs to find a concession that Russia will accept to return Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, or both,” her brother David told the Associated Press.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.