Most of the news stories coming out of Russia in recent months have centered around Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Urkraine.
But in the sports world, a smaller-scale saga has highlighted the casual brutality of Putin’s regime in a surprising way.
WNBA star Brittney Griner has been locked in a Russian prison since February.
The charge is one that would net Griner nor more than a fine and probation in even the most conservative US States.
The basketball superstar was detained at a Russian airport after security personnel searched her luggage and discovered vaporizer cartridges containing small quantities of hash oil.
In the months that followed, the Russian government has held Griner as a political bargaining chip, using increasingly flimsy pretenses to justify her further imprisonment.
On Thursday, Griner appeared in a Russian courtroom, where she pled guilty to the charges against her.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner told the judge through an interpreter.
“I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare,” she added.
Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if she’s convicted of all of the charges against her.
Legal counsel for the 31-year-old has explained to the court that she packed in a hurry and did not realize that she was carrying hash oil cartridges in her bag.
While no plea deal has been made public, it is believed that Griner pled guilty in hopes of receiving a more lenient sentence.
Here in the US, activists and heads of state have called for Griner’s immediate release.
An official statement from the U.S. State Department has classified Griner’s arrest as wrongful detainment.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” a State Department spokesperson said in May.
“The U.S. Government will continue to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner and her family.”
On July 4, Griner penned an open letter to President Joe Biden, in which she urged the White House to take action on her behalf.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote.
In addition to her performance in the Olympics, Griner reminded the US government of her father’s service during the Vietnam War.
“Please don’t forget about me and the other American [d]etainees,” Griner wrote.
“Please do all you can to bring us home.”
Excerpts from the letter were shared publicly by Brittney’s wife, Cherelle Griner, who added:
“President Biden, I hope this letter moves you the way it moved me and that you will do whatever you can to bring my wife home quickly and safely,” she said.
According to a report from The New York Times, the Russian government might be interested in exchanging Griner for Viktor Bout, an arms dealer who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in a US federal prison.
Dubbed “the Merchant of Death,” Bout has been convicted of selling American weapons to a Colombian terrorist group.
We’ll have further updates on this developing situation as more information becomes available.