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Brittany Griner pleads guilty to marijuana charges in Russia, so what happens next?

wnba star Brittany Griner pleads guilty on Thursday to bring hemp-derived oil cartridges to Russia, saying it did so by accident. The move was significant because it shed the first light on his defense team’s strategy, and it could potentially pave the way for a prisoner swap with America or a pardon that could see Griner set free.

The basketball player’s Russian lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, was quoted by local media outside a Moscow courthouse on Thursday as saying: “We certainly expect the court’s leniency.” “Having taken into account all the circumstances of the case and the personality of our client, we believe that the confession of the offense must certainly be taken into account.”

From a procedural standpoint, under Russia’s legal system a pardon or prisoner swap can only take place if the person has already been convicted. Moscow is unlikely to respond to any Washington requests for Griner’s release unless he is formally convicted.

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday that there are “no formal or procedural reasons to discuss further steps” until Griner’s trial is over.

On Friday, Ryabkov indicated that Russia is interested in putting the ball in Washington’s court — prompting the Biden administration to make a proposal for a possible swap if the two sides can reach the stage of closed-door negotiations on an exchange. leave.

“For any exchange scheme, our position is the same: it needs to be done behind closed doors through available channels,” Ryabkov said.


WNBA star Brittany Griner pleads guilty to drug charges in Russia

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Ryabkov clearly indicated that Moscow may be interested in negotiating a swap for the notorious Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, the so-called “merchant of death,” who has been in US custody since 2008.

“I am not sure that any additional activity, especially in the public sector, will help to strike a right, balanced compromise and a basis for mitigating the fate of many of our compatriots, such as Viktor Bout, who have health problems. will get, [or] Like Seleznev, and many others,” he said, referring to Roman Seleznev, who is serving a 27-year prison sentence in the US on cyber fraud charges.

US officials have repeatedly referred to Griner as “wrongfully detained”, a label the Kremlin said is not “helpful” in negotiations.

To ensure the release of Griner and another US citizen, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said during an official visit to Indonesia on Friday. Paul WhelanWho was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage in Russia was the “number one priority” for the Biden administration.

Asked about Rybakov’s comments that Griner’s trial would have to play out before there was any further movement on a potential prisoner swap, Blinken told reporters that he was “hypothetically not going to be involved.”

“We will be looking for ways to do everything possible to get people home as quickly as possible,” he said.

The trial of American basketball player Brittany Griner in Khimki
American basketball player Brittany Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, was released from a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, on July 7, 2022. moved first.

Evgenia Novozhenina / Reuters


Even if Griner filed a guilty plea, it could still take weeks or months for a judge to issue a verdict in the case. Griner is expected to testify during the next hearing on July 14.

Admitting guilt could play in Griner’s favor in the long run, as it could lead to a shorter trial than expected if his legal team mounts a fierce resistance to the charges. It was the same with another American, Trevor Reid, who was recently released in a swap For Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko. After fighting the charges against him for nearly three years while he was lodged in a Russian prison, Reid was asked to sign a paper admitting his wrongdoing before being released.

Possession and use of marijuana is illegal in Russia. Statistically, very few criminal cases end in acquittals in the Russian justice system.

If any talks on a potential prisoner swap fail—or even fail to materialize, relations between Washington and Moscow are at present or at an all-time low—convicted Admitting to and asking the court for mercy could at least look at any sentence imposed on Griner. Small

“We are still in a wait-and-see posture to see how the trial progresses,” William Pomeranz, acting director of the Cannon Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington and an expert on Russian law, told CBS News on Thursday.

“I think he mainly blamed himself for throwing himself at the mercy of the court and pleading for leniency,” Pomeranz said. He previously told news outlets that this is often the best strategy to adopt with Russia’s courts.

“We will have to see if he gets the maximum sentence. Clearly the matter has now become a political affair, and reportedly about a plea agreement and a prisoner swap with a Russian prisoner for Brittany Griner. I am already in discussion.” They said. “We basically need to see if this prisoner swap is in the cards, because if she really wants to go home as soon as possible, it will only happen if there is a swap between Russia and the United States. “



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