WNBA Player Pleads Guilty To Drug Charges In Russian Court
Making her second appearance in a Moscow court Thursday, WNBA star and Olympic champion Brittney Griner has pled guilty to drug charges under Russian law for which she could be given a maximum ten year sentence.
“Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges as her trial continued in Russian court, admitting to bringing cannabis into the country but saying she had packed in a hurry and did not intend to break the law,” NPR writes. “Russia continued to make its case against Griner at her trial on Thursday, more than 140 days since the WNBA star was arrested at a Moscow-area airport on drug charges.”
At this point an expected conviction is considered very likely based on the guilty plea. She’s been detained in Russia since before the war – arrested at a Moscow airport on Feb.17 for allegedly having cannabis oil on her possession, used for vaping.
Washington has viewed her case as one where Russia is attempting to gain leverage for negotiations, using Griner as a political pawn. Weeks ago the State Department officially deemed her status “wrongfully detained” – which implies she’s being viewed as hostage of a foreign state. This allows the federal government to negotiate her return.
Western officials have slammed a “show trial” now being conducted, but it’s a major step before possible negotiations for her return. And yet it remains that Griner pleading guilty to a crime under Russian law complicates matters, to say the least. According to analysis in ESPN:
But before the trial even begins, U.S. experts and officials say Griner will be the subject of a show trial, and a guilty verdict is almost a certainty. The entire exercise, they say, is a negotiation tactic to push the Biden administration into trading for her freedom.
“It’s a foregone conclusion and the trial is to uphold the state and confirm the power of the state,” says William Pomeranz, the acting director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington and an expert on Russian law. “Justice is not the immediate issue.”
It’s likely that Griner will spend the whole proceedings in a steel cage, just as most Russian defendants in standard criminal cases.
LIVE: Outside the Russian court where U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner plead guilty to drugs charges https://t.co/lGt9MaOVyG https://t.co/wIRRFXmki7
— Reuters (@Reuters) July 7, 2022
Russia is recently hinted that it could be ready to negotiate a hostage swap for a notorious arms trafficker named Viktor Bout.
Griner had been spending off-seasons from the WNBA playing for a Russian team going back to 2016. According to one prior report she was given “red carpet” treatment and paid very well:
Griner traveled to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg, which she has been doing since 2016. The team is reportedly backed by a large corporation.
An ESPN feature from May of that year dug into Griner’s deal. UMMC Ekaterinburg provided each American player with a personal driver in addition to other amenities. “The restaurants are good, the team pays well and takes care of every detail — chartering flights to away games, delivering bottled water to their apartments — the arena is always filled with locals, and the coaching staff” was composed of many coaches Griner was familiar with from Phoenix Mercury.
Griner took the job to supplement her salary from the WNBA, which is something about half the league’s players do. For her first season, she was paid a little less than $1 million which was about four times the WNBA’s max annual salary.
There’s the possibility that she had already been waived through airports with banned vaping substances prior to her Feb.17 arrest, and that authorities may have known this – but the Kremlin could have been waiting for the politically opportune time to make headlines with the arrest.
Thu, 07/07/2022 – 10:07