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Russian Court Sentences US Basketball Player Brittney Griner to Nine Years in Prison

© Sputnik / Mikhail Voskresensky / Go to the mediabankAmerican basketball player Brittney Griner in the Khimki court of the Moscow region
American basketball player Brittney Griner in the Khimki court of the Moscow region - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.08.2022
US President Joe Biden earlier announced that Washington had made an offer to Moscow on returning two Americans, including basketball player Brittney Griner. Media reports suggest that the US is ready to trade the Russian national Viktor Bout, who remains incarcerated on weapons trafficking charges, which he denies.
A Russian court has found US basketball player Brittney Griner, who was accused of smuggling the controlled substance hash oil into the country, guilty of the crime. The court sentenced her to nine years in prison and ordered her to pay a one million ruble ($16,600) fine. Griner's lawyers said they will appeal the decision.
US President Joe Biden reacted to the news, calling the ruling "unacceptable" and urging Moscow to release the athlete.
"[The sentence] is 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.
Previously, a Russian prosecutor requested a 9.5-year prison term for Griner. This is close to the strongest punishment possible for this type of crime. The prosecutor also requested that Griner be slapped with a one million ruble fine.
The athlete was arrested in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in February 2022, as she arrived to play with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA offseason. The Russian customs officers detected bottles for her vaping device in her luggage that contained hash oil – a controlled substance that is illegal to bring into Russia.
Griner pleaded guilty to charges of drug smuggling, but explained that she had no ill intent in bringing the bottles to Russia. She said a doctor had prescribed her the hash oil to deal with pain since proper painkillers had unwanted side effects. The athlete elaborated that she was packing her things in a rush and hence failed to remove the bottles containing the prohibited substance.
Viktor Bout  - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.07.2022
US Reportedly Offers Moscow Prisoner Exchange: Russia's Viktor Bout for Americans Griner and Whelan
The US has been attempting to achieve her release ever since, and recently US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed that Washington had made a proposal to Russia to release Griner along with another US citizen – corporate security director Paul Whelan, who is serving a prison term on espionage charges. They did not reveal what was offered in exchange, but CNN reported that the White House proposed releasing Russian national Viktor Bout.
The latter was arrested in Thailand in 2008, extradited and sentenced to 25 years in prison in a US court on charges of weapons smuggling that he vehemently denies. Moscow condemned his arrest and impoundment as a state kidnapping.
Media reports suggest that the prisoner exchange talks are still ongoing and that Russia allegedly asked the US to throw in another arrested Russian national for equal exchange. Neither Moscow nor Washington have confirmed these reports.
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