As her family and friends pressure the U.S. government to do more to get her released, Brittney Griner’s case continues to make its way through the Russian legal system.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist has been wrongfully detained in Russia since Feb. 17, when police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that the amounts were 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams. While it’s true that Russia has very strict rules on drug smuggling, an amount this small does not justify a nine-year sentence.
The timing of the Phoenix Mercury center’s arrest—just as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine—has made this case seem like a political move right from the start. At the time, the U.S. State Department encouraged citizens to leave Russia, but Griner was rejoining her UMMC Ekaterinburg club since most WNBA stars actually make their money playing overseas in the fall, winter and spring.
With an extremely small number of Russian trials ending in acquittals, the WNBA champion pleaded guilty and admitted she packed the cartridges by mistake when she was recovering from COVID-19.
Many experts presumed the admission of guilt to be a legal maneuver, as serious talks for a possible prisoner swap between the two countries could not begin until the trial ended. As previously reported at The Root, Russia and the United States have actually been in negotiations for a possible exchange since April.
In July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the U.S. made a “substantial offer” to exchange former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned since 2018 on alleged espionage charges, and Griner for arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving 25 years in federal prison.
Though Whelan and Griner’s families recently met with President Biden at the White House, there’s been very little news about a possible deal since the eight-time WNBA All-Star’s sentence was handed down. This isn’t unusual, as we won’t know about a prisoner swap until it’s over. However, the lack of information on Brittney makes her supporters feel like the government has moved on to its next problem and forgotten about the dangerous situation the basketball star is stuck in.