Brittney Griner, an American basketball star, was convicted of a drug charge and sentenced to nine years in a penal colony by a Russian court on Thursday. This harsh penalty keeps her fate entwined with the geopolitical showdown over the war in Ukraine and ramps up the already intense pressure on President Biden to win her release.
She is allegedly one of numerous Americans who have been “wrongfully arrested” by Russia and are being used as bargaining chips in the increasingly tense relationship between Moscow and Washington, according to the claims made by the government of the United States. The administration of President Joe Biden has proposed a prisoner exchange including Ms. Griner; however, Russian authorities have said that it is premature to consider a settlement while her trial is still ongoing.
Now that the trial is over, Mr. Biden is faced with the challenging decision of whether or not to stick to his original offering to exchange for Ms. Griner and another American, Paul N. Whelan, or whether or not to make the offer more appealing in some other way.
Either stance is likely to elicit criticism inside the country, while the Kremlin has the ability to use them as a kind of leverage but little motivation to conclude cases as swiftly as possible.
Ms. Griner’s supporters, who are expressing horror at the verdict and sentence, are clamouring for the president to do something. However, the administration has been wary of giving in to Russian tactics that it has almost labelled as blackmail. Ms. Griner’s supporters are demanding that the president do something.
Following the announcement of the decision, President Joe Biden issued a statement in which he said that his administration will “continue to fight relentlessly and seek every feasible option” in order to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.
Ms. Griner, 31, who is one of the biggest global stars in her sport, sat mostly expressionless, with her eyes cast down, leaning her long frame toward the bars of the defendant’s box in a cramped courtroom outside of Moscow, to hear as the words of the judge, Anna S. Sotnikova, were quietly translated for her. The courtroom was extremely crowded. It was a given certainty that she would be found guilty since she had already entered a guilty plea, and conviction is almost guaranteed in Russian courts; thus, the real dispute was about the sentence.
The response was disheartening to hear. Based on the discovery of two vape cartridges containing hashish oil in Ms. Griner’s luggage when she arrived in the country in February, a week before Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, sent his forces pouring over the border into Ukraine, the judge handed down a sentence that was close to the maximum of ten years that could have been imposed for her conviction of attempting to smuggle narcotics into the country.