The prosecutor’s call for a harsh sentence for Griner – as well as a fine of 1 million rubles ($16,590) – came amid calls from the United States for Russia to seriously weigh its exchange offer prisoners to take her home.
A member of Griner’s legal team, Alexander Boikov, told the judge that Griner deserved to be acquitted despite his guilty plea, saying the prosecution had failed to prove criminal intent. Moreover, he said, his rights were violated during the investigation and the legal process.
“We know that in Russia the drug laws are very strict,” Boikov said, “but Russia also cares about its prestige in sport.” Griner’s career and his play for the UMMC Yekaterinburg team during the WNBA offseason was a celebration of friendship between people, he continued. “She had many offers, but for some reason she chose the cold Yekaterinburg, knowing how warmly she would be received there.”
The prosecution alleges that the 0.702 grams of cannabis found in the Griner’s luggage after it landed at Sheremetyevo International Airport in February was a “significant amount”. Griner testified last week that she was in a hurry when she packed her bags, that she had no idea the items were in her bags and that she had no intention of breaching the Russian law.
The Phoenix Mercury star testified that she used cannabis oil in the United States for the treatment of chronic pain caused by injuries, but knew that transporting cannabis to Russia was illegal. She said she flew to Russia despite warnings from the US State Department about such trips because she didn’t want to let her Russian team down.
The Biden administration is feeling massive public pressure to secure his release, a behind-the-scenes negotiation greatly complicated by the breakdown in relations between Washington and Moscow over the war in Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov late last week, urging him to agree to a deal involving Griner and former security consultant Paul Whelan, an American who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia. Whelan, who was arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage in 2020, says he was framed.
Blinken and Lavrov discussed a possible prisoner swap for Griner and Whelan
The United States declined to say whether the pair would be swapped for Russian Viktor Bout, an arms dealer arrested during a US sting operation in Thailand in 2008.
The administration’s announcement of its proposed deal appears to be an effort to dampen criticism of its handling of the Griner case. But the Kremlin has told Washington to refrain from “megaphone diplomacy”, with Russian Foreign Ministry officials repeatedly warning that public appeals would not help it.
John Kirby, spokesman for the United States National Security Council, said Tuesday that the administration was not going to negotiate in public.
“We made a serious proposal, made a serious offer,” Kirby said. “And we urge the Russians to accept this offer because it was made with sincerity, and we know we can support it.”
In recent years, the United States has resisted Russian pressure to trade Bout given the severity of his crimes. He was convicted in New York in 2011 and then sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiring to sell surface-to-air missiles, AK-47s and explosives to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, knowing that they planned to shoot down American helicopters.
A deal to bring Bout home would be a major political victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin, signaling to his domestic audience that despite unprecedented Western criticism and sanctions, he still has the power to force the White House to negotiate with him. .
Bloomberg reported that as part of a swap, Moscow could seek the release of a wealthy Russian businessman close to the Kremlin, Vladislav Klyushin, who pleaded not guilty in a Boston court in January to an alleged scam of $82 million. Klyushin claimed the case against him was “politically motivated” because of his ties to the Russian government.