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Brittney Griner’s Trial in Russia Set to Begin July 1


Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on June 27. | Image by Getty Images

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Brittney Griner made a public appearance at a Russian courthouse as the date for her trial has been set. The U.S. basketball star’s trial will begin July 1, with Griner being ordered to remain in custody until its conclusion.

Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for allegedly possessing cannabis. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the U.S., acquittals can be overturned in Russia.

On Monday, the 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury center was seen being led into the court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki in handcuffs while wearing glasses and a gray T-shirt.

Griner’s arrest came one week before Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. Relations between Russia and the U.S. have hit an extremely low point as a result.

News of Griner’s detention did not start to circulate until March, and initially, U.S. officials and the WNBA kept a low profile about Griner’s arrest.

It was not until early May, when the U.S. State Department reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained,” that friends, family, and fellow basketball stars began publicly calling for her release.

Russian news media reports repeatedly indicate that the country is willing to negotiate her release.

However, some strategy experts assert that Russia’s continual emphasis on its willingness to negotiate suggests that the legal proceedings are just a pretense; if the country convicts the basketball player, it opens up an avenue to make a deal with the U.S. for her return.

“This may sound counterintuitive, but the trial is a crucial part of the process,” Dr. Danielle Gilbert, assistant professor of military and strategic studies at the United States Air Force Academy, told ESPN. “The Russians have to keep pretending that this is a legitimate arrest. There is no reason to believe that the charges are legitimate or that her trial will be fair.

“But if and when she’s convicted, the Russians will have made clear their credible alternative to a deal to bring her home. Hostage diplomacy cases rely on the pretense of law. With Brittney Griner — and Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed before her — the Russians are using our own respect for the rule of law against us.”

Reports have speculated that Griner could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.

Russia has sought Bout’s release for years, but the severity of his crimes, compared to the allegations Griner is facing, make a swap unappealing for the U.S.

Some have suggested that Griner be traded for in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former marine serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for an espionage conviction that the U.S. also considers “wrongfully detained.”

Any swap involving Griner would have to happen after she is first convicted and sentenced, Maria Yarmush, a lawyer specializing in international civil affairs, told Kremlin-funded TV channel RT.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked Sunday on CNN whether a joint swap of Griner and Whelan for Bout was being considered.

“As a general proposition … I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But “I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.”

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3 months ago

Specifically why is her arrest and detention illegal? Was she not in procession of an illegal substance in Russia (also federally illegal here we choose not to enforce that law)? If she was not in possession then I completely understand why it would be considered an illegal arrest. But I have not seen anywhere that she said she did not possess the illegal substance. Sorry she got arrested but if you’re gonna do the crime be prepared to pay the time. Athletes are not above the law.