MOSCOW (AP) — Jailed American basketball star Brittney Griner on Thursday pleaded guilty to drug possession and smuggling during her trial in Moscow but said she had no intention of committing a crime, Russian news agencies reported.
The athlete was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters with cannabis oil allegedly were found in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs.
Washington hasn’t made public its strategy in the case and the United States may have little leverage with Moscow because of strong animosity due to Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. The State Department has designated Griner as wrongfully detained, moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Asked about the possibility of Griner being swapped for a Russian jailed in the U.S., Ryabkov, the senior Russian diplomat, noted that until her trial is over “there are no formal or procedural reasons to talk about any further steps.”
“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 snapped.
The trial of the Phoenix Mercury star and two-time Olympic gold medalist was adjourned after its start last week because two scheduled witnesses did not appear. Such delays are routine in Russian courts and her detention has been authorized through Dec. 20, suggesting the proceedings could last months.
An organization called Win With Black Women sent Biden a letter saying Secretary of State Antony Blinken “has called Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, assuring her and stating publicly that Brittney’s safe return was a matter of personal priority; however, we are concerned that the rhetoric does not appear to align with the actions taken to date. We urge you to make a deal to get Brittney back home swiftly.”
Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between Griner’s alleged offense and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to Washington.
“This is a serious offense, confirmed by indisputable evidence … Attempts to present the case as if the American was detained illegally do not hold up,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexei Zaitsev said Wednesday.