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Brittney Griner convicted in Russia, Moscow open to prisoner swap

The double Olympic champion, arrested in February for “drug trafficking” at Moscow airport and sentenced to 9 years in prison this Thursday, August 4, is immersed in the geopolitical crisis between Russia and the United States.

Detained since February in Russia, the American female basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced, this Thursday, August 4, to 9 years in prison in a penal colony and a fine of one million rubles (around 16,000 euros) by a Russian court after his arrest with a vape containing cannabis liquid . A verdict described as “unacceptable” by the American president, Joe Biden, who asked “Russia to immediately release” the basketball player.

Last week, the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken and his counterpart Sergei Lavrov had their first discussions since the start of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine. The US secretary of state said he had pressed his counterpart to accept Washington’s “substantial offer” to secure the release of Griner and another American detained in Russia, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence. prison for espionage.

According to CNN and The New York Times , Washington has offered to trade a notorious Russian arms dealer held in the United States, Viktor Bout, for the two American nationals. Official discussions this Friday, August 5 by the head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov: “We are ready to discuss this subject, but only within the framework of the channel (of communication) which was agreed by the presidents (Vladimir) Putin and (Joe) Biden ,” said Sergei Lavrov, during a press conference organized from Cambodia. “There is a special channel, which is agreed by the presidents, and despite some public statements, this channel retains all its relevance ,” he continued.

“If the Americans still decide to engage in public diplomacy and make resounding declarations (…) that is their business, and even their problem” , he added, adding that Washington “cannot arrive not” to work “calmly and professionally” on many subjects.

“We are BG, free BG”

For its part, athletes and professional basketball leagues are mobilizing across the Atlantic. On Thursday, the North American Women’s Basketball League (WNBA) called Brittney Griner’s sentencing “unfair and regrettable” in a joint statement with the NBA , saying the player was ” wrongfully detained” .

“The WNBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and we hope that the end of this process to bring Brittney Griner back to the United States for good is approaching ,” concluded the league commissioner. , Cathy Engelbert. The American Basketball Federation also expressed its disappointment, but not its surprise “given what we know of the procedure” .

“We continue to support BG in every way we can and remain engaged with the US State Department as they work to bring her home. The bravery Brittney shows in the face of these unimaginable circumstances is a testament to the person she is and the strength she possesses ,” USA Basket concluded.

For the Phoenix Mercury, its “broken-hearted” WNBA team , Brittney Griner’s sentencing marks a “significant milestone” in “the 168-day nightmare that our sister, BG, has been enduring for 168 days . ” “We will not allow it to be forgotten ,” added the Arizona club.

Before the start of a WNBA championship game in Connecticut, the Mercury and Sun players observed 42 seconds of silence, in support of the one who usually wears this number on her jersey. Gathered in the center of the floor of the Mohegan Sun Arena, the basketball players were all held by the waist, heads bowed, some in tears, like many spectators in the audience who donned t-shirts bearing the image of the star of the women’s basketball, with the inscription “We are BG” ( “We are BG” ).

Prior to the game, Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said: “We’re going to play, but how can we focus on this game? It’s such an emotional day for us. “It was really hard seeing ‘BG’ today and hearing his words. The players looked at her. Emotions intensified throughout the day ,” she added.

Several other sportsmen and women expressed the same dismay. “Seeing BG behind these bars breaks my heart. Praying hard for her today,” tweeted Diamond DeShields, who plays for the defending WNBA champion Chicago Sky. Speaking to Joe Biden, former women’s basketball star Swin Cash asked him: “Please… bring Brittney Griner home!” We will not stop advocating for it…” .

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that Washington had made a “substantial offer” to Moscow to free Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, imprisoned in Russia for espionage. ” Not possible ! 9 years ? Bring our sister and friend home. #FREEBG “ , finally called Grant Williams, winger of the Boston Celtics, beaten in the NBA finals in June by Golden State. These “FREEBG” ( “Free BG” ) were relayed from all sides on social networks.

The player’s agent, Lindsay Colas, stressed on Twitter that the sentencing “proves what we have known all along, which is that Brittney is being used as a political pawn” .

American basketball player Brittney Griner sentenced in Russia to 9 years in prison

Since her arrest at a Moscow airport, a few days before the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the double Olympic champion has been plunged into the geopolitical crisis between Russia and the United States.

A “consequent” offer from Washington for his release

After the verdict was announced, US President Joe Biden deemed the athlete’s conviction “unacceptable” . “I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be reunited with her wife, relatives and teammates ,” he urged in a statement. The American leader pledged to work “unremittingly” and to “explore all possible avenues” in order to work for his release.

Arrested in February in Moscow, shortly before the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the double Olympic champion was caught up in the geopolitical crisis between Russia and the United States. Her trial has accelerated in recent days as the two countries negotiate a prisoner swap that the player could be part of, with Washington claiming to have recently made a “substantial” offer to Moscow. According to several American media, it would be a question of exchanging a famous Russian arms trafficker detained in the United States, Viktor Bout, for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, an American detained in Russia.

“I made a mistake in good faith and I hope that the judgment will not end my life here ,” pleaded Brittney Griner during her last speech before the statement of the court’s decision. Since the start of the trial, the young woman, considered one of the best basketball players in the world, appeared focused, answering the court’s questions with calm and precision. Thursday, before the start of the hearing, she held up to reporters a photo of herself surrounded by her basketball teammates in Russia.

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