Why is Brittney Griner in Russia and why was he detained?

WNBA star Britney Greener, 31, has been detained in Russia since February after Moscow airport officials allegedly found illegal cannabis oil in her luggage.

Her detention came shortly before Russia launched the war in Ukraine, and geopolitical tensions have undoubtedly made it more difficult for her to be released.

Ms. Greener’s family, friends and fans — as well as many public figures — have been calling for Russia to release her for months and for the State Department to intervene.

Her trial began on July 1, days after a court-ordered extension of her detention until December.

She returned to court on Thursday, July 7, to plead guilty to drug charges that could face up to 10 years in prison.

Here’s everything we know about this ordeal.

Who is Britney Greenner?

Ms. Griner plays center for the Phoenix Mercury WNBA team.

She also played against the U.S. Olympic basketball team in 2016, won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics, and won her second championship medal last summer in Tokyo.

She’s an accomplished basketball player, won the Best Female Athlete Award at ESPY, and struck an endorsement deal with Nike in 2013.

what happened?

On 17 February, while traveling at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, Russian customs officials allegedly found cartridges containing illegal cannabis oil in her luggage.

Ms Griner was detained at the airport on charges of mass transporting illegal drugs, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

On 27 June, a Russian court extended Ms Griner’s detention until 20 December.

Her trial began with a closed-door hearing on July 1, after which she declined to speak to reporters.

According to the court, the Russian government provided evidence that the WNBA star “purchased two cartridges for personal use containing 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil.” A report by the state news agency TASS.

The trial resumed on July 7, with Ms Griner holding a photo of her wife Cherelle and telling the judge she would plead guilty, according to reporters in court.

“I want to plead guilty, Your Honor. But there is no intent. I don’t want to break the law,” Ms Griner said, speaking in English before being translated into Russian for the courtroom.

“I want to testify later. I need time to prepare.”

Why is she in Russia?

Ms. Griner played basketball in Russia in the Russian Super League.

Many U.S. athletes go abroad during the U.S. offseason to continue playing their chosen sports.

Off-season foreign leagues provide U.S. athletes with additional money-making opportunities and a chance to maintain their skills through consistent play.

WNBA stars like Ms. Greener usually make, generallymakes up just 1.5% of a year’s salary for a male NBA counterpart, so playing outside the U.S. often helps bridge that pay gap.

Ms Griner reportedly earned $1 million per season playing in Russia, while her base salary at Phoenix Mercury is said to be $221,450.

What are you doing to help her?

Supporters of Ms Greener, along with her family and friends, have been calling for her release for months.

Democratic Congressman John Garamendi told CNN Securing her release will be “very difficult” due to ongoing political tensions between Russia and the US over the war in Ukraine.

Some US officials have speculated that Russia is using Ms. Greener’s detention as a political bargaining chip.

Evelyn Farkas, a Pentagon official, said she feared Ms Greener would be used by Russia as a “high-profile hostage” to secure a prisoner swap with the United States.

On March 23, a diplomat was allowed to visit Ms Griner in Russia and said she was “in good condition”.

Russian monitors also checked on Ms. Greener and reported that she was fine, except that the bed in the facility where she was held was not built for someone her height.

More than 40 organizations, including the NAACP, the Human Rights Movement, GLAAD, the National Urban League, and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris signed a letter calling on them to work with Russia to secure her release.

U.S. WNBA basketball superstar Britney Greener sits in the defendant’s cage before a hearing at Khimki Court outside Moscow on July 27


A prisoner swap was first considered on May 15, and Ms Griner could be sent back to the US in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to reports. Mr. Boot was convicted in 2011 of conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens and officials, delivering anti-aircraft missiles and providing aid to terrorist groups. He is currently being held in a US prison.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he has spoken with Cheryl Greener and his priority is to secure the release of Americans held in Russia.

“I have nothing more important than making sure that Americans who are in some way illegally detained around the world go home,” he said.

“This includes Paul Whelan, including Brittney Griner, including people from many other countries.”

Cherelle Griner spoke with Pastor Al Sharpton about her wife’s detention in Russia, describing the WNBA star as “struggling.”

“She was scared there, she was there alone,” she said.

As the trial began, Ms. Griner shared her fears directly with Mr. Biden in a letter.

In an excerpt shared by her representative, she wrote: “As I sit in a Russian prison, thinking alone, without the protection of a wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or any achievement, I’m terrified that I might be here forever. “

Cherelle Griner issued fresh criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of the case on July 5, saying it was “very frustrating” that she had not heard back from the White House about her imprisoned wife.

“I’m not going to be silent anymore,” Cherelle Griner told CBS. “I will find the balance between hurting and helping and push our government to do everything possible because being quiet means they don’t move, they do nothing.”

Brittney Griner holds up a photo of a recent All-Star game player wearing her number

(Associated Press)

The White House responded by insisting that Ms. Griner’s case was a “priority” — before Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris spoke directly to the basketball star.

“The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he was working to ensure the speedy release of Brittney, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other American nationals wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” Whitehouse said in a statement. .

“He also showed her a draft of the letter the president sent to Britney Greener today.”

The statement added that Mr Blinken and other officials including national security adviser Jack Sullivan had previously approached Cheryl Greener about the matter.

On July 27, Mr. Biden formally offered to exchange the bout for Ms. Greener and Mr. Whelan, as he had offered earlier, according to U.S. government officials.

“We certainly want Russia to be actively involved, but I don’t want to give more details,” John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, told reporters at the daily White House news briefing.

“We think this is a serious proposal, and we hope the Russians will take it seriously as well.”

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