A Russian court Thursday found WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of drug possession and smuggling charges. She was sentenced to 9 years in prison.
The announcement came Thursday morning, some six months after she was arrested in a Russian airport for possession of less than one gram of cannabis. Griner arrived in Russia in February to play in the country during the American off-season. This is a common practice for many American sports players who can sometimes make more money abroad than they can at home.
A sentence was not handed down when the verdict was read, but prosecutors requested that she spend nine years and six months in a prison colony, according to a report from NPR.
Griner’s incident could not have happened at a worse time, given the ever-rising tensions between the United States and Russia amid the war in Ukraine. The two countries, almost overnight, retreated to a Cold War-style stalemate with each side punishing the other for its behavior.
In recent weeks, the Biden administration has been negotiating — so far, unsuccessfully — her release with Russian officials. Multiple offers have been made through US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, but the Kremlin has not been in contact with Blinken’s office since before the start of the war.
One potential offering is the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Prisoner exchanges for this type of crime and someone of his stature are not uncommon between the two countries, but to release a prisoner of that caliber would be largely unprecedented.
Griner’s wife has now made the charge that US officials, who did not reveal the case to the public until the beginning of March, have done very little to help her imprisoned spouse. In an interview with CNN, Cherelle Griner said that the actions of American authorities had been insufficient. She also said she hoped to meet with Joe Biden because he has the power to repatriate her wife.