The trial of the US basketball player accused of bringing drugs into Russia begins

WNBA star Brittney Griner enters the courthouse where her criminal case began in Russia.Alexander Zemlyanichenko (AP)

four months later having been arrested After entering Russia, Brittney Griner’s trial has finally begun. The star of the WNBA, the US women’s basketball league, entered the courthouse on Friday afternoon wearing a Jimmy Hendrix jersey and with an expressionless face that hardly changed after hearing the accusations that the Russians have made. The prosecutor assures that the star, just over two meters and 31 years old, entered the country last February with 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in cartridges for an electronic cigarette. If convicted, she could spend 10 years in prison. The Russian news agency Tass reported that the athlete, who has been considered a pawn in tensions between Washington and Moscow after the war in Ukraine, said she understood the charges against her.

The judge has set the next hearing for Thursday, July 7. Three employees of the US embassy in Russia were present in court to back up Griner. The Joe Biden government maintains that the citizen was unfairly detained. Her lawyer, Alexander Boykov, has said that the athlete is worried about the criminal process and the sentence that she may follow. “But she is a tough girl. I think she is going to fix it, ”said the lawyer after the first session. Griner, center of the Phoenix Mercury, told Reuters that the months of detention have been difficult because he does not speak Russian and because he has not been able to exercise at the level he requires. The athlete has won two Olympic gold medals and has been selected seven times to the All Star of the WNBA.

The beginning of the process has served for the Kremlin to insist on a message that it has launched to the four winds with the intention of convincing: Griner’s arrest is not a political issue. “The facts indicate that the eminent athlete was arrested with illegal drugs containing narcotic substances. There are laws in Russia that punish such crimes,” a Kremlin spokesman said Friday.

In Griner’s home country, however, everything is politics. Or at least that is intended. Not a single day has passed without the WNBA Players Association launching a message to capture the attention of President Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris. “Day 134. This doesn’t feel like a weekend to celebrate,” the organization tweeted on Friday as the United States prepares to celebrate yet another anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom.

Marina Mabrey of the Dallas Wings wears sneakers with the letters BG, in honor of Griner.
Marina Mabrey of the Dallas Wings wears sneakers with the letters BG, in honor of Griner.Tony Gutierrez (AP)

Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, appeared Thursday on CNN to ensure that she has been looking for days to meet with Biden, who left the country to participate in the NATO summit in Madrid. “I would love for you to tell me that this case matters to you,” she told the news network. Cherelle has stated that she has not spoken to her partner for four months. According to the Associated Press agency, the athlete tried to communicate last Saturday, on the couple’s fourth anniversary. Griner called his wife at least eleven times through a line from the American embassy in Moscow, but communication was not possible because there was no diplomat working. “I feel hurt, fed up,” Cherelle told the AP, adding that the conversation had been on the diplomatic staff’s agenda for at least two weeks before it took place.

The Biden Administration has tried to send the opposite message. “I cannot give details of what we are doing, I can only say that it is an absolute priority,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken on CNN the day after there was not a single person in the embassy who could connect the call. of Griner with his wife. The person in charge of foreign policy of the United States assured, however, that he had spoken with Cherelle days before.

The US press has speculated that diplomats are negotiating a prisoner exchange to return Griner to Phoenix. Jake Tapper, one of the main anchors of CNN, suggested that some versions indicate that Washington seeks to hand over Viktor Bout, an arms dealer convicted in Manhattan in 2011, by Griner and the military man Paul Whelan, who was detained by the Russians in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Blinken avoided answering the question directly, but said that among his responsibilities is bringing Americans home.

The biggest outrage over Griner’s arrest is on the WNBA courts. Her name initials, along with her number 42, have been on the court of every Phoenix home game since the season began on May 6. The players have shown extraordinary solidarity with one of the league’s greatest exponents, who had traveled to Russia to join UMMC Yekaterinburg while the US league was on hiatus. This is a common practice among players, who seek a complement to her income. Diana Taurasi, Giner’s partner in Phoenix, also played in the Russian professional league, where she earned $1.5 million per season. It is not known how much Griner had agreed with Yekaterinburg, owned by an Uzbek businessman with links to Vladimir Putin.

The average salary of a professional basketball player in the United States is around 130,000. The most outstanding can sign contracts for up to 500,000 dollars a year, an amount much lower than what the men in the NBA earn. Ja Morant, the young promise of MemphisHe signed a five-year contract extension for $193 million on Thursday. It remains to be seen in the coming weeks whether Giner can recover something more valuable than his salary in Russia: his freedom.

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The trial of the US basketball player accused of bringing drugs into Russia begins