Britney Griner’s verdict again draws attention to strained relations between the US and Russia

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Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving asked a question that many were pondering on Thursday morning: What’s going on with Britney Griner?

On Thursday, a Russian court found WNBA star charged with drug possession a few months after she was arrested at a Moscow airport, cartridges of hash oil were found in her belongings. Griner pleaded guilty last month but said she had no intention of bringing banned substances into the country.

The US government claimed that Griner was “wrongfully detained” and presented the Kremlin with a “substantial offer” to bring her and American Paul Whelan home.

WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of marijuana, sits in the defendants' cage after the court's verdict during a hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, August 2.  4, 2022.

WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of marijuana, sits in the defendants’ cage after the court’s verdict during a hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, August 2. 4, 2022.
(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

On the legal side, her lawyers said they would appeal against the verdict, which they called “absolutely unfounded.”

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But since the tension between USA and Russia remain tense amid the conflict in Ukraine, the timing and likelihood of Griner’s release remain unknown.

“I think we have to acknowledge that a foreign jurisdiction has engaged its processes in dealing with the found guilty defendant,” said Hugh Dugan, an American academic and longtime diplomat who was the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs during the Trump administration. Fox News Digital about the complexities of closing a deal.

“In order to continue to claim wrongful detention, the White House must demonstrate how her nationality played a role in the outcome of this case and whether there are other types of pressure exerted on the White House from Russia and in connection with foreign policy issues.”

American basketball player Brittney Griner stands in the defendants' cage before a court hearing on charges of drug smuggling in Khimki, outside Moscow, August 8.  2, 2022.

American basketball player Brittney Griner stands in the defendants’ cage before a court hearing on charges of drug smuggling in Khimki, outside Moscow, August 8. 2, 2022.
(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Dugan continued: “Wrongful detention must entail a significant component of prejudice against the defendant on the basis of nationality, in particular, in this case, American citizenship. The White House will need to demonstrate that in fact Russia used leverage in this case solely because of the defendant’s foreign citizenship and the fact that Russia was trying to secure other national interests in this situation.

On Thursday, President Biden issued a statement calling the trial and subsequent verdict “unacceptable.”

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“Today, American Britney Griner was sentenced to prison, which is another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully holding Britney in custody,” Biden said in a statement.

“This is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and use every means possible to bring Britney and Paul Whelan home safe and sound. As soon as possible.”

But Dugan warned that such rhetoric could complicate negotiations.

President Biden was seen at Camp David in Maryland during a February 2 phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  12, 2022.

President Biden was seen at Camp David in Maryland during a February 2 phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 12, 2022.
(White House)

“The White House remains very concerned and interested in a speedy resolution, [but] as to how Russia will take the White House proposals is another matter, and I believe that the president’s constant references to wrongful detention at this point can only anger Russia.”

Rebecca Koffler, a Russian-born former U.S. intelligence officer and expert on Russia and Vladimir Putin, echoed the sentiment, saying the process is likely to drag on due to political differences.

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“Britney Griner’s appeal, which her Russian lawyers say they will hear, will almost certainly be rejected. Only after a formal legal process can a real deal be discussed between Moscow and Washington,” she said on Thursday.

“Because the positions of Moscow and Washington are currently intransigent — the former sees Ms Griner as a criminal who deserves almost the maximum punishment for drug smuggling, and the latter considers her “wrongly detained” by Russia — this promises to be a long, drawn-out case in Vladimir Putin’s regime has all the cards, but the Biden administration has almost none.”

A Russian court found WNBA star Britney Greener guilty of drug smuggling and possession after prosecutors asked for a sentence of nine and a half years in prison for the athlete.

A Russian court found WNBA star Britney Greener guilty of drug smuggling and possession after prosecutors asked for a sentence of nine and a half years in prison for the athlete.
(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the Biden administration had made a “substantial offer” for the return of basketball player and compatriot Paul Whelan.

The prisoner exchange was not confirmed by the White House, but reports said Viktor Bout, Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death”, may be a key component of this deal.

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Booth is serving a 25-year sentence in the US after being found guilty of conspiring to kill US citizens and aiding a terrorist organization, raising concerns about the proportionality of their crimes in terms of a “fair” deal, but as Dugan explains. , this concern appears to be less significant as the situation evolves.

Alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout walks past makeshift cells ahead of a hearing at the Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand.  20, 2010.

Alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout walks past makeshift cells ahead of a hearing at the Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand. 20, 2010.
(Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images)

“The fact is that these people are commodified by each side and that the conditions for recovery are rarely, if ever, related to the severity of the situation that brought them captive,” he said.

“I drew an analogy: if you played chess with me, and my pieces were made of pure gold, and yours were made of plastic, this would not determine the outcome of the game. The same dynamic applies to who plays, how, what and when. The intrinsic value of the pieces is anecdotal or random and will not interfere with one side in any way.”