A basketball player in cœur in a Russian-American prisoner exchange. American Brittney Griner, 2.06 meters, star of the WNBA, the North American women’s basketball league, is was sentenced on Thursday, August 4, to nine years in prison by a Russian court for drug possession and trafficking.
Arrested in February in Moscow for possession of cannabis, he now finds himself, despite himself, caught in a geopolitical crisis between Washington and Moscow, amid the conflict in Ukraine. Franceinfo summarizes the story of this sportswoman, which has become a diplomatic issue for the United States, in six actions.
1On February 17, Brittney Griner was arrested in Moscow
The 31-year-old athlete, considered one of the best basketball players in the world, was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with cannabis-based vaping liquid, days before Russia’s offensive in Ukraine .
The inspection of hand luggage carried by Brittney Griner, who arrived on a flight from New York, then made it possible to “confirm the presence of vapers (and) a liquid with a particular smell“determined the federal customs service of Russia in a press release.
—Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) March 5, 2022
The star of the Phoenix Mercury (club from the city of Phoenix, Arizona) came to Russia to play during the American offseason, a common practice for WNBA basketball players, who usually have a better life outside of country than the US.
2On March 5, the basketball star’s imprisonment was revealed to the public
Fifteen days after Brittney Griner’s arrest, it was revealed to the public. Meanwhile, Russian forces invaded Ukraine and the news of his arrest was met with what appeared to be a deliberate silence. His Phoenix Mercury club simply reacted, in a short press release, that “announced” the status of the player. His wife, Cherelle Griner, called “respect [leur] private life” while he “work to bring [s]safe wife”.
The same strategy in Washington, where it is feared that the player will become a tool of pressure in the Ukrainian conflict. “For the detained Americans, we usually don’t give details because it doesn’t continue things to get them home”commented a White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, to justify this silence.
3On July 19, Joe Biden adopted several sanctions to free American prisoners
In the face of media coverage of the case, thePresident Joe Biden paved the way for sanctions against governments that unjustly imprison Americans and ordered more detailed travel warnings.
NBA superstar LeBron James felt, a few days ago, that the American authorities did not do enough to bring Brittney Griner back. “How does he feel supported by the United States?”asked the player, a four-time NBA champion and four-time MVP, on his show “The Shop: Uninterrupted” on YouTube. “In his case, I said, ‘Do I want to go back to America?'”
Joe Biden then signed an executive order authorizing government agencies to impose financial sanctions or travel bans on foreign officials or non-state actors involved in unjustified detentions of Americans.
4On August 4, Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia
During her trial at the end of July, Brittney Griner admitted to unknowingly bringing medicinal cannabis into Russia but never intending to smuggle drugs. According to him, cannabis was prescribed to him by a doctor. “I have no idea, nor am I planning to introduce banned substances to Russia”then declared the double Olympic champion, from the cage reserved for the accused, according to an AFP reporter in the area.
He explained that he uses medicinal cannabis legally in the United States, on prescription and on his off days, out of competition, to relieve many “pain” related to his intensive basketball practice. “It’s because of all the injuries I’ve had in this long basketball season. It’s from my back to the cartilage. And I’ve been in a wheelchair for four months, I sprained my ankle”he explained.
The Russian Prosecutor’s Office wanted nine and a half prison sentences the women’s basketball star, who demanded the court “Don’t end your life”. He stated: “I made an honest mistake and hope that the judgment does not end my life here.”
At the end of the trial, the court in Khimki, near Moscow, finally found the star of the United States national team guilty of drug possession and trafficking and sentenced him “up to nine years’ imprisonment in a penal colony“, according to the statements of judge Anna Sotnikova, reported by AFP.
5On August 4, the United States condemned the “abusive detention”
This heavy condemnation has sparked a wave of anger, especially in the world of sports. After the verdict, theThe lawyers of the international basketball star immediately announced that he will appeal his conviction.
“This is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release him immediately so he can be reunited with his wife, relatives and colleagues.“urged US President Joe Biden in a statement (in English) completion notice of judgment.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre also criticized the “wrongful detention“ of the double Olympic champion. “Today’s verdict reminds us of what the world already knows: Russia was wrong to detain Brittney. He shouldn’t have had to stand trial.” he lamented. On the side of the Republican Party, the very conservative Ted Cruz, senator from Texas, also talked about “arbitrary detention“.
On the sports side, the North American Women’s Basketball League (WNBA) is mourning a conviction “unreasonable and bad. The verdict … was predictable and Brittney remains wrongfully imprisoned.”regretted the incident in a joint statement of the NBA.
6On August 5, Russia said it was “ready” to discuss a prisoner exchange
The day after the conviction of the basketball player, Russia said on Friday “ready” to discuss a prisoner exchange with the United States. The American administration claimed for a few days that the Kremlin had submitted a proposal to obtain the player’s release, but Russian diplomacy reiterated that an exchange could only be discussed once the verdict had been reached.
“We are ready to discuss this topic, but only within the framework of the channel [diplomatique] agreed upon by President Putin and Biden”assured on Friday the head of diplomacy of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, during a trip to Cambodia. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that the United States “continue” to discuss with Russia about a prisoner exchange involving the basketball player.
Washington said at the end of July that it had made an offer “fruit” and “seriously” to secure the return of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for “espionage”. According to American media, as the New York Times (in English), the exchange of questions about the basketball player and Paul Whelan against Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “dealer of death”a Russian arms dealer who served 25 years in prison in the United States.