Russia has imposed a maximum sentence on American Olympic champion Brittney Griner in order to get a successful political deal in a prisoner exchange with the United States.
On August 4, the Moscow Khimki court sentenced Griner, a professional basketball player, to nine years in a penal colony and a fine of one million rubles in a drug-smuggling case. The prosecutor had asked for nine and a half years in a penal colony and a fine of one million rubles for the athlete. The court found her guilty on charges of carrying residue of hash in her vaping atomizer.
U.S. President Joe Biden has already responded to the court’s decision. He called the sentence “unacceptable,” and added that Washington demands the immediate release of the athlete.
Using people as political pawns in an exchange is a common practice for Russia. It appears Russian authorities intend to bargain in a prisoner exchange and the sentence was passed in order to get more from the U.S. from the deal.
Griner was arrested Feb. 2022 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after hash oil vape cartridges were found in her luggage. On July 7, the basketball player pleaded guilty but noted that she had no intention to commit a crime. Griner’s defense later argued that she had permission to use medical cannabis.
“My parents taught me to always accept my responsibility. That is why I pleaded guilty to the charges against me. I know that everyone is constantly talking about the fact that I am a political pawn. But I want politics to remain outside,” said the star athlete.
After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, diplomatic relations between Russia and the U.S. have nearly returned to the intensity of the Cold War years with the USSR. In addition, Russia has threatened to completely break off diplomatic relations if the U.S. recognizes Russia as a terrorist country. In such a situation, political hostages become of great importance and can serve as a means of blackmail by Russia.
From the beginning of the Russian war in Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, until July 29, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made only one call to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the exchange of prisoners and within a week the two-time Olympic champion was convicted.
In an Aug. 5 press conference, Lavrov said Russia is ready to discuss the exchange of prisoners with the United States, but within the framework agreed upon earlier by the heads of state.
“There is a special channel, which is agreed upon by the presidents, and no matter what anyone says publicly, this channel remains relevant. If the Americans decide to resort to public diplomacy again and make loud announcements, statements that they are now going to take, this is their problem,” the minister said at a press conference.
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