EXPLAINER: Who is Brittney Griner and what is her fate in Russia?
Who is Brittney Griner and what is her fate?
WHO IS BRITTNEY GRINER?
Brittney Griner, 31, is a two-time Olympic champion and star player in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WBNA).
Standing 206 cm (6 feet 9 inches) tall, the Texan was selected first overall by the Phoenix Mercury in the 2013 Women’s National Basketball Association (WBNA) draft.
Griner, known as “BG” to basketball fans, has played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA offseason since 2014. The club has drawn other top U.S. basketball players including Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker.
WHY WAS SHE DETAINED IN RUSSIA?
Griner was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Feb. 17 with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
Marijuana is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Griner was detained upon crossing customs to catch her flight to Ekaterinburg, a city 1,400 km (870 miles) east of Moscow.
She was flying there to join her team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, for the playoffs after spending time at home in the United States.
WHAT HAS HER DEFENSE ARGUED?
Griner pleaded guilty to the drugs charges against her but insists she did not intend to break Russian law.
She testified that she did not understand how the cartridges could have ended up in her luggage. She speculated that she could have inadvertently packed them as she rushed to make her flight.
Griner had a prescription in the United States for medical marijuana to relieve the pain from chronic injuries. Medical marijuana is a common treatment method among athletes where the substance is legal given that it has fewer side effects than some painkillers.
WHAT HAS THE RESPONSE BEEN IN THE UNITED STATES?
U.S. officials and prominent athletes say Griner has been wrongly detained and have called for her immediate release, saying she is being used as a political pawn.
U.S. President Joe Biden called Griner’s wife Cherelle last month to tell her he was working to secure her release from Russia as soon as possible.
Prominent U.S. athletes also have expressed their support for Griner. Megan Rapinoe of the women’s U.S. national soccer team wore a white suit jacket with the initials “BG” embroidered on her lapel as she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the country, from Biden last month.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN AFTER THE VERDICT?
Griner’s defense team said it was “legally possible” for her to be swapped after the court renders a verdict.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that Washington had made Moscow a “substantial offer” for the release of American citizens held in Russia, including Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.
A source said that Washington was willing to exchange convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death”.
Russian officials said that no deal had been agreed to yet, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned Washington that “megaphone diplomacy” would not lead to results when negotiating a potential prisoner swap.
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