WNBA's Griner says poor translation clouded arrest in Russia
KHIMKI, Russia (AP) — American basketball star Brittney Griner testified Wednesday at her drug trial in Russia that a language interpreter translated only a fraction of what was said during her questioning and officials instructed her to sign documents without providing an explanation. Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February. She acknowledged in court earlier this month that she had vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage when she arrived in Russia but contends she had no criminal intent and packed the cartridges inadvertently.
MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin warned Thursday that a possible prisoner swap with the United States involving American basketball star Brittney Griner needs to be negotiated quietly without fanfare.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that Washington had offered Russia a deal that would bring home Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan. A person familiar with the matter said the U.S. government proposed trading convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner.
Russia's Lavrov says he will discuss US prisoner swap offer
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that he's open to a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss a possible prisoner swap involving American basketball star Brittney Griner. Blinken said Wednesday that Washington had offered Russia a deal that would bring home Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan. A person familiar with the matter said the U.S. government proposed trading convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner.
Asked about the U.S. offer, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov replied that prisoner swaps were typically negotiated discreetly behind the scenes.
“We know that such issues are discussed without any such release of information,” Peskov told reporters during a conference call. “Normally, the public learns about it when the agreements are already implemented.”
Brittney Griner back in Russian court on cannabis charge
KHIMKI, Russia (AP) — Brittney Griner was back in court on Tuesday for her trial for cannabis possession amid U.S. diplomatic efforts to secure her release. If convicted, the WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist could face 10 years in prison. As her trial has progressed, the Biden administration has faced growing public pressure to get her released. In an extraordinary move, Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, would go free.
He emphasized that “no agreements have been finalized” and refused to provide further details.
In a separate statement, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Russian and U.S. officials have conducted negotiations about possible prisoner exchanges and “there has been no concrete result yet.”
Brittney Griner returns to Russian court as US floats proposal to secure her release
American basketball star Brittney Griner was back in court for her drug possession trial in Russia on Tuesday, as the U.S. floats a proposal to secure her release. Your browser does not support this video Griner, a 31-year-old Houston native who plays professional basketball for the Phoenix Mercury, was returning to Russia for the WNBA's offseason when she was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport in the Moscow suburb of Khimki on Feb. 17, after being accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country.
“We proceed from the assumption that interests of both parties should be taken into account during the negotiations,” Zakharova said.
Blinken’s comments marked the first time the U.S. government publicly revealed any concrete action it has taken to secure Griner's release. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and player for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury was arrested at a Moscow airport in mid-February when inspectors found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
In a sharp reversal of previous policy, Blinken said he expects to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the proposed prisoner deal and other matters. It would be their first phone call since before Russia sent its troops into Ukraine.
Russia has for years expressed interest in the release of Bout, a Russian arms dealer once labeled the “Merchant of Death.” He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012 on charges that he schemed to illegally sell millions of dollars in weapons.
Griner’s trial on drug charges started in a court outside Moscow this month, and she testified Wednesday that she didn’t know how the cartridges ended up in her bag but that she had a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis to treat career-related pain.
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The 31-year-old has pleaded guilty but said she had no criminal intent in bringing the cartridges to Russia and packed in haste for her return to play in a Russian basketball league during the WNBA’s offseason. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of transporting drugs.
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On Wednesday, Griner testified that a language interpreter translated only a fraction of what was being said while she was detained at Moscow’s airport and that officials told her to sign documents, but “no one explained any of it to me.”
Griner also said that besides the poor translation, she received no explanation of her rights or access to a lawyer during the initial hours of her detention. She said she used a translation app on her phone to communicate with a customs officer.
Mercury ‘Faithful’ U.S. Gov Will Help End Griner’s Detention
Phoenix continues to show their support for Griner. The Phoenix Mercury released a statement Thursday standing behind Brittney Griner amid the WNBA star’s nine-year sentence for smuggling drugs with criminal intent by a Russian court on Thursday. Griner was also fined 1 million rubles, or the equivalent of $16,500.“While we knew it was never the legal process that was going to bring our friend home, today’s verdict is a sobering milestone in the 168-day nightmare being endured by our sister, BG,” the team said in a statement.“We remain heartbroken for her, as we have every day for nearly six months.
Her arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington ahead of Russia sending troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24. Griner’s five months of detention have raised strong criticism among teammates and supporters in the United States.
The Biden administration has faced political pressure to free Griner and other Americans whom the U.S. has declared to be “wrongfully detained” — a designation sharply rejected by Russian officials.
Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges in 2020. He and his family have vigorously asserted his innocence. The U.S. government has denounced the charges as false.
Washington has long resisted prisoner swaps out of concern that they could encourage additional hostage-taking and promote false equivalency between a wrongfully detained American and a foreign national regarded as justly convicted.
In April, however, the government struck a deal to trade U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed for jailed Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.
Matthew Lee and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
Inside the Russian Penal Colony Where Brittney Griner Will Serve Her 9-Year Prison Sentence .
"I hope that she will be sent to a colony with a lenient governor who allows her to coach basketball in the daytime rather than being a seamstress," Ivan Melnikov, a human rights activist, tells PEOPLEAfter nearly six months in Russian custody, Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in prison and will begin her stay in a Russian penal colony.