Brittney Griner’s guilty verdict strengthens supporters’ resolve

WNBA star Britney Greenner is on trial in a Russian court on Thursday for drug smuggling charges, surprising experts familiar with the Russian legal process. Griner was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison – just one year short of the maximum sentence.

Her conviction is considered a form and a prerequisite for a prisoner swap that could lead to her return to the United States.

“I think the negotiations will be accelerated now that the so-called court process is over,” said Jonathan Franks, who was with the family of former U.S. Marine Trevor R. Reed Working he was in Russia with April. Reed was also sentenced to nine years in prison after being convicted of battery, a charge his family believes is false and politically motivated.

“One of the things Americans need to realize is that we’re dealing with a mob,” Franks said. “Those who take our people hostage or wrongfully detain them, it’s just state-sponsored kidnappings. They’re thugs. Sometimes, to get the thugs’ attention, they just know strength.”

Last week, the U.S. State Department said it had made a “substantial offer” to the Russian government in exchange for Griner and Paul N. Whelan, Americans who have been detained in Russia since 2018. Whelan was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in prison. prison. But now that Greener’s trial is over, experts say more patience is needed from those who support her. After Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said publicly that the United States had offered Russia a deal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, tell reporters Negotiations for a prisoner swap are taking place quietly.

“Russia has no incentive to do anything good for the United States,” said William Pomeranz, acting director of the Kenan Institute and an expert on Russian law.

“I’m not optimistic that a diplomatic deal will be reached anytime soon,” he said, pointing to Peskov’s statement and the poor relationship between the two countries over the war in Ukraine.

Griner has been detained in Russia since February 17, when Russian customs officials at an airport near Moscow said they found cannabis oil, a marijuana derivative, in an e-cigarette pen in her luggage. The State Department announced in May that it believed Greener had been “wrongly detained,” meaning her case would be handled by the president’s special envoy for hostage affairs. The State Department said it will work to secure her release regardless of how her trial ends.

In the U.S. and Russia, Greener’s teammates and coaches provided support. Her Russian team, UMMC Yekaterinburg, testified on Griner’s behalf during the trial.

In the United States, several WNBA players who also played in Russia coordinated a social media campaign on Wednesday, the day before her trial ended.

Nneka Ogwumike, President of the WNBA Players Union, posted a photo on Instagram She herself plays for her Russian team, Dynamo Kursk.

“Like me, she has fond memories of the competition and returns to Russia year after year to compete,” Ogwumike wrote. She added: “In honor of all our great experiences racing in Russia and around the world, out of love and humanity, I ask you to show her compassion and understanding. Please be kind to Britney Greener.”

Russian historian Kimberly St. Julian-Vanon, who has consulted with the players, said that while the players’ appeals did not appear to have affected the proceedings, there was value in their solidarity with Griner and her UMMC Yekaterinburg teammates who spoke on her behalf. Union during Griner’s detention.

“Britney’s Russian teammates and her coaches, those who are testifying on her behalf in Russia are really putting themselves at risk because Russia just recently passed stricter laws for working with foreigners,” St Julian- Varnon said. She said the public statement from the WNBA players was a “nod to them to thank them for what they’ve done.”

Shortly after Griner was detained, St. Julian-Varnon began advising the union. She said earlier she told players to expect a long process and they shouldn’t expect Greener to be released before her trial, even if her sentence is light, meaning at least five years.

Now that Griner has been convicted, St. Julian-Varnon is still urging caution.

“That doesn’t mean she’s going to be involved in a prisoner swap anytime soon,” she said. “Keep that in mind because it’s still a process, but it’s the next step in that process. It could be weeks. It could be months. A lot depends on Russia.”

Terri Jackson, executive director of the WNBA Players Union, said Griner’s verdict won’t change the way players support her. For months, they’ve spoken out publicly and staged other demonstrations of support, such as wearing T-shirts with Griner’s initials and jersey number 42.

“Just really feel bad and sick for Britney and hope she gets home soon,” said Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, a four-time All-Star who played with Griner in Russia. “Now that the trial is complete and the sentencing has taken place, I know she must be in a very emotional state and just wanted to let her know that we are continuing to do everything we can to get her home.”

When asked if the NBA and WNBA would change their tactics, NBA spokesman Mike Buss said both leagues would continue to support the State Department, the White House “and other allies inside and outside the administration in their efforts to get Britney home as soon as possible. .”

Tensions between the United States and Russia have not eased in the months since Greener was detained. She was jailed shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, which the U.S. had supplied with military equipment to counter Russia. On Monday, the White House said it would provide Ukraine with $550 million in additional weapons for the war effort.

St. Julian’s-Vanon said that could hinder talks to release Griner, which is not a problem for Russia. “This will only damage the credibility of the Biden administration,” she said. “Russia has no immediate incentive to do anything.”

That stance probably won’t satisfy Griner’s supporters. Paris Hatcher is the executive director of Black Feminist Future, a social justice organization that created the #BringBrittneyHome hashtag campaign. She said her initial excitement about a possible prisoner swap with Griner dissipated after Thursday’s sentencing.

Hatcher said the group would consider bringing the Greener case to the forefront of politicians’ minds.

“Does that mean we’re going to be reaching out to the elected officials we’ve spoken to about the critical nature of this case?” Hatcher said. “A lot of times, you just don’t have enough information. Now, you have information. Whatever made you hesitate, it’s been six months.”

Hatcher added: “Whatever swap needs to happen, let it happen. Make it happen.”

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