A Russian court sentenced the American basketball star on Thursday Britney Greenner After convicting her on drug charges, she was sentenced to nine years in prison, a harsh punishment that intertwined her fate with the geopolitical showdown of the war in Ukraine and heightened the pressure on President Biden to win her release. pressure.
The U.S. government argues that she is one of several “wrongly detained“Used by Russia as a bargaining chip in an increasingly hostile relationship between Moscow and Washington. The Biden administration proposes a prisoner exchange Ms Griner was involved, but Russian officials said it was too early to discuss a deal while her case was ongoing.
Now that the trial is over, Mr. Biden faces a tough choice, either stick to his proposal to trade Ms. Greener and another American, Paul N. Whelan, or somehow raise the offer, both positions may attract domestic criticism.
At the same time, the Kremlin can use them as leverage, with no incentive to resolve cases quickly. her supporters, expressing fear of verdicts and verdictsare clamoring for the president to do something, while the administration is wary of succumbing to Russia’s tactics, which have been labelled almost blackmail.
“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every means possible to get Britney and Paul Whelan home as quickly and safely as possible,” Biden said in a statement after the sentencing.
Ms. Greener, 31, one of her sport’s biggest global stars, sat almost expressionless, her eyes dropped, her long body leaning against the railing of the defendants box in a cramped courtroom outside Moscow. On, listen to Judge Anna S. Sotnikova, who was quietly translated for her.she has plead guilty and belief is almost certain In Russian courts, so the verdict is a foregone conclusion; the real question is about sentencing.
The answer is devastating. According to her arrival in February Russian President Vladimir V. Putin sent his troops across the border into Ukraine.
She and her legal team had hoped for a lighter sentence based on her guilty plea, her statement that she did not intend to bring the cartridge to Russia and her testimony that she used the substance legally in the United States to manage pain.
“I made an honest mistake and I hope your ruling doesn’t end my life,” she said before sentencing.
She told the court that while she was responsible for her actions, “I have no intention of breaking Russian law.” She said she hastily packed her bags and rejoined after recovering from a bout of Covid-19. The Russian team she played in the WNBA offseasonand accidentally left the cartridge in her luggage.
“I know everyone is talking about political pawns and politics,” she added, “but I want that to stay away from that courtroom.”
Ms Greener’s defence team called the ruling “absolutely unreasonable”, saying the court had “completely disregarded all the defence’s evidence and most importantly the guilty plea” and vowed to appeal. Elizabeth Rood, deputy head of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, who attended the court session, called the result a “misjudgment.”
What to Know About Britney Greener’s Detention in Russia
Russian officials insist that Ms. Greener’s case is just a running judicial system and has no political overtones – an assertion that their American counterparts and many Western analysts consider absurd.
William Pomeranz, a Russia expert and acting director of the Kenan Institute, a Washington-based research group, noted that Ms. Greener was sentenced Not a prison, but a place of exilewhich often means more remote locations (many in Siberia) and harsher conditions.
“She might go to a penal colony in central Russia, where she won’t know anyone,” he added. “They won’t be able to come and visit. The penal colony can be very serious at times. If she ends up in the penal colony, it will be a huge test of her mental state.”
The U.S. has few options, he said. “It will depend on the Russians and how fast they want to get a deal.”
Basketball players, men and women, and basketball executives took to social media to express their support for Ms Greener and their grief over the verdict. Ms Greener’s team, Phoenix Mercury, said in a statement: “Our hearts are still broken for her, as we have been every day for nearly six months. We remain grateful and trust the public servants who work every day to send her back to her family and around us.”
With Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the indiscriminate destruction it caused, relations between Washington and Moscow are more confrontational and bitter than they have been in decades. The United States, along with the West, has provided arms and other aid to Ukraine and punished Moscow with economic sanctions, seeking opportunities to increase pressure.
The two sides have conducted prisoner exchanges before, most recently in April when Russia was released. Trevor R. Reed, an American citing what his family said was false assault charges in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of cocaine trafficking in the United States. But few have offered an exchange proposal in such a tense situation, or involved someone as illustrious as Ms Greener.
On Friday, Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov discussed Ms. Greener’s fate in their first direct talks before the invasion, a sign of how much risk Washington faces. .
The Biden administration has Offer to deal Ms Greener and Mr Whelan for Victor Boot, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2011 on federal charges of conspiring to sell weapons to people posing as terrorists with the intent to kill Americans. Mr Whelan, detained in Russia since 2018, was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The White House said on Monday that Russia had made an unspecified “malicious” offer, which U.S. officials said they did not consider serious.
NSC spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday: “I think it’s not about Britney or Paul, let’s talk more openly about where we’re going in the negotiations and what the president might or might do. Help. Not willing to do it.”
Brittney Griner’s Dilemma in Russia
The American basketball star is serving months in a Russian prison on charges of smuggling cannabis oil into Russia.
“Conversations are taking place at every level,” he added.
If Biden sticks to his original proposal, he could face accusations of not doing enough.
Mrs Greener’s wife, Cheryl Greennerand other supporters have installed a valid public movement Pressured the president for her release. Supporters worry about her treatment in a country where anti-American and anti-gay vitriol is deeply rooted in popular opinion and official propaganda. In the U.S. and international media, images of the grim-faced Ms. Greener being led, handcuffed, entering and exiting the courtroom, towering over her armed guards, have become routine.
The administration could make more attractive proposals, but U.S. officials already worry that the prisoner trade could encourage hostile foreign governments to detain Americans on fabricated charges in exchange for concessions, such as the release of their own outlaws. Some Republicans have complained that Mr Biden’s existing proposals would create such an incentive.
A 6-foot-9 center, Ms. Greener won the college national championship with Baylor in 2012, WNBA championship Teamed up with Mercury in 2014, won Olympic gold medals with Team USA in 2016 and 2020, and won four Euroleague titles with Russian team UMMC Yekaterinburg. Like many players in the WNBA, where wages are much lower Compared to the NBA, Ms. Griner—who also played a season with a professional team in China—plays overseas to supplement her income.
reported by Michael Crowley, Jonathan Abrams and tania ganguly.