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Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty to Russian Drug Charges

Rally Held For Phoenix Mercury Player Brittney Griner Detained In Russia Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to drug charges levied against her in Russian court today. ”I’d like to plead guilty, your honor,” Griner said, speaking to the court. “But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”

The former Baylor superstar and member of the Phoenix Mercury faces up to 10 years in a Russian prison if fully convicted of the charges. Griner has been in Russian custody since February 17th after being stopped while going through customs in a Russian airport. Prosecutors allege that Griner had 2 cannabis vape cartridges, containing 0.252 and 0.45 grams respectively.

Griner’s saga has been unique in terms of US citizens abroad. Because of her high profile, she has received outspoken support from the WNBA, US politicians, and the public abroad. Recently, Griner penned a letter to President Biden, pleading for his help to bring her home. “I’m terrified I might be here forever” Griner said in her letter to the President, “I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home.”

In response to the letter, the White House has stated that they are working with the Special Envoy that’s been appointed to oversee the case in the State Department. “You saw the work that his administration did to bring home Trevor Reed, that is the same work, the same focus that we did and put behind bringing Trevor Reed home, we’re going to do the same with Brittney Griner and others,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We believe the Russian Federation is wrongfully detaining Brittney Griner.President Biden has been clear about the need to see all U.S. nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad released, including Brittney Griner. The U.S. government continues to work aggressively – using every available means — to bring her home,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement on Monday. “The President’s team is in regular contact with Brittney’s family and we will continue to work to support her family.”

According to some sources, Griner’s guilty plea could be a strategy to help facilitate a prisoner swap, and is also recognition that there was no possibility for acquittal. An admission of guilt would likely be a requirement for any deal for her release, and this plea gets that done.

Because of the current relationship between the US and Russia, as well as the high profile nature of this case, there is little chance that the process of bringing Griner home will move quickly, and will require delicate maneuvering between the two countries’ departments of state. Experts in US-Russian relations have described the trial as a “theater”, with the belief that a guilty verdict is inevitable. Russian officials are noticing the public outcry from the American side as well, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stating “attempts by the American side to make noise in public...don’t help the practical settlement of issues.’’

In cases like this, prisoner swaps are the norm. Russia has long desired to bring home Viktor Bout, an arms dealer serving 25 years in an American prison for supporting terrorism. There is some doubt, though, if President Biden would be willing to make that trade. Bout goes by the nickname “The Merchant of Death”.

“The persistence with which the U.S. administration...describes those who were handed prison sentences for serious criminal articles and those who are awaiting the end of investigation and court verdicts as ‘wrongfully detained’ reflects Washington’s refusal to have a sober view of the outside world,’’ Ryabkov said.

There is clearly posturing between the two sides, and unfortunately, Brittney Griner is paying the price by being the middle. Whether she is guilty or not, Griner will play her part in a grander geo-political theater, and we as the public only have the power to sit back, watch, and cry out.