OPINION: This article contains commentary which may reflect the author's opinion
American women’s basketball star, Brittany Griner’s case has been caught up in the deep crisis between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Today, she learned her fate from a judge in Russia overseeing her drug charge after the professional athlete was caught with marijuana at the airport in Moscow.
According to Fox News,
“WNBA star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after she was found guilty of drug possession and drug smuggling by a Russian judge on Thursday.”
“She was also fined 1 million rubles.”
“Russian prosecutors asked the court to hand Griner a 9.5-year prison sentence. The defense then started its arguments. Griner faces up to 10 years in prison.”
Ahead of her sentencing, a remorseful Griner offered an apology:
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” she said. “I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”
Before learning she would be sentenced to serve nine years in a Russian prison, Griner added to her apologetic statement saying, “Hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”
Biden also responded moments after learning of Griner’s massive sentence, in which he provided no help to rescue the American citizen who many believe is suffering the consequences of America providing aid to the Ukraine in their war with Russia.
President Joe Biden on Thursday said the nine-year sentence handed down to WNBA star Brittney Griner by a Russian court for drug smuggling is “unacceptable.”
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.
He continued, “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
The Russian court said that Griner committed the crime deliberately and sentenced her to nine years of jail time and a fine of 1 million rubles, which is roughly $16,400. Griner was arrested with less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17.
The New York Time reports:
A Russian court on Thursday found the American basketball star Brittney Griner guilty of an attempt to smuggle illegal narcotics into Russia and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony, according to her lawyers. The verdict ended a closely watched trial that her supporters say made her a pawn in a tense geopolitical showdown over the war in Ukraine.
The verdict, virtually preordained in a legal system in which defendants are rarely acquitted, leaves Ms. Griner’s fate subject to diplomatic bargaining between Russia and the United States. The countries have been discussing the possibility of a prisoner exchange that would bring Ms. Griner home from Russia, where she has been detained since traveling there in mid-February.
Griner’s defense team called the verdict “absolutely unreasonable” and said “we will certainly file an appeal.” The team — Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin, and Alexander Boykov, of Moscow Legal Center — said the court had “completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea.”
According to the New York Times’ report, Griner was playing in Russia to supplement her W.N.B.A. salary.
When the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner was detained in a Moscow airport in February, she was returning to Russia from the United States to join her Russian basketball team, UMMC Yekaterinburg, for the playoffs.
Ms. Griner said during her court testimony last week that she knew about a U.S. State Department advisory warning American citizens not to travel to Russia, but wanted to rejoin her team anyway.
“It’s the most important part of the season, after the break,” Ms. Griner testified, according to Reuters. “It’s playoffs. The whole season I worked, my team worked hard to get to a good position. There was nothing that was going to change that for me. I didn’t want to let my team down.”
Ms. Griner has played for UMMC Yekaterinburg since 2014, when the W.N.B.A. has been outside its season. The team, which is owned by the Russian oligarchs Iskander Makhmudov and Andrei Kozitsyn, is known for paying some of the highest women’s basketball salaries in the world.
Many W.N.B.A. players play overseas during their off-seasons to supplement their salaries and garner extra playing time. The W.N.B.A.’s maximum base salary for the 2022 season is $228,094.
About half of the league’s players played in non-American leagues during this past off-season, with more than a dozen playing in Ukraine and Russia.