WNBA star Brittney Griner’s trial resumes amid intensified US-Russia diplomacy – National

Since Brittney Griner last appeared in her cannabis possession trial, questions about her fate have escalated from a tiny, cramped courtroom on the outskirts of Moscow to the highest levels of Russian-American diplomacy.

The WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist returns to court on Tuesday, a month after the start of the trial where she faces 10 years in prison if convicted. As the process progressed, the Biden administration faced mounting calls to action to secure her release.

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Who is Viktor Bout? What we know about the Russian arms dealer dubbed the “dealer of death.”

In an extraordinary move, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov last week, urging him to accept a deal that would free Griner and Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia for espionage.

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Although details of the offer remain veiled, Blinken’s public announcement of a proposal went against convention to keep negotiations on the release of prisoners top secret. When American Trevor Reed, who was serving a sentence for assaulting a police officer, was released in April in exchange for a Russian drug dealer, there was no indication of an impending swap.

The Lavrov Blinken call was also the most high-profile contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia deployed troops to Ukraine more than five months ago. Direct contact could undermine a key message to US allies that isolating Russia could ultimately force the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine.

It also underscores the public pressure the White House has faced to release Griner, which has prompted some backlash. Former President Donald Trump sharply criticized the proposal, which would see Griner and Whelan traded for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout.

“He’s absolutely one of the worst in the world, and he’s going to get his freedom because a potentially spoiled person goes to Russia loaded with drugs,” Trump said.

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The US made a ‘substantial offer’ to secure the release of Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan: official

The US made a ‘substantial offer’ to secure the release of Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan: official

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Russia responded “in bad faith” to the US government’s offer, a counter-offer American officials don’t take seriously. She declined to elaborate.

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Griner, who speaks from the defendants’ cage in a courtroom that seats barely a dozen people, has admitted vape canisters of cannabis oil were in her luggage when she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February. But she says she had no criminal intent and the cans ended up in her luggage because she packed hastily. Griner played for a Russian women’s basketball team in the WNBA off-season.

To support her case, her defense attorneys have subpoenaed character witnesses from her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, and submitted statements from doctors that she was prescribed cannabis to treat pain. Medical treatment with marijuana is not legal in Russia.

Her lawyers hope that such testimony will earn leniency from the judge, who has latitude under Russian law to consider mitigating factors.

Acquittals are rare in Russian criminal cases — less than 1 percent of cases. Penalties can be suspended.

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‘No agreements yet’ on US exchange offer to release Griner, Whelan: Moscow

If a conviction is a foregone conclusion, it might also be a step forward. Russian officials said Griner could only be released after the trial is complete.

But a Washington lawyer who was formerly a legal adviser at the US Embassy in Moscow said there was no formal requirement for a conviction before an exchange.

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“If she is indeed being used as a political bargaining chip – and the administration has already said she was wrongly imprisoned, presumably because they believe she is being used as a political pawn – they can impose a very high penalty to maximize their leverage.” in negotiations,” attorney Tom Firestone told The Associated Press.

He also said that given the Biden administration’s public commitment to securing the release of Whelan and Griner, Russia “may want to let this go a little longer and try to get more concessions.”

Russian officials have given no public indication of whether Blinken has made any progress in his talks with Lavrov, only issuing a statement urging Americans to pursue the matter through “quiet diplomacy without releasing speculative information.”

Russia has repeatedly expressed anger at American statements on the case, saying they are flouting Russian law.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

https://globalnews.ca/news/9029493/brittney-griners-trial-us-russia/ WNBA star Brittney Griner’s trial resumes amid intensified US-Russia diplomacy – National


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