The trial of American professional basketball player Brittney Griner begins today in Russia.
Griner was arrested on February 17—a week before the Russian invasion of Ukraine—at a Moscow airport. Russian authorities claim to have seized cannabis oil vape cartridges from her luggage. Possession of cannabis carries an up to ten-year prison sentence in the country.
Griner’s detention, which the U.S. State Department deems wrongful, has strained already poor relations between Moscow and Washington. In the short term, expect Griner to remain in Russian custody. Even in the unlikely event she is acquitted—in a country where only approximately 1% of criminal defendants are found not guilty—Russian courts allow the state to appeal criminal acquittals.
In the medium to long term, Griner’s detention will likely continue to be perceived by Washington as a political slight by Moscow against American support for Ukraine. However, expect the State Department to use her status as a wrongfully detained US national to open negotiations prior to her conviction. Yet, the most likely outcome securing her release would be a prisoner exchange following conviction, where Washington would release a Russian national imprisoned in the US—such as convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.
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Nick is the Director of the Daily Brief and a contributing Senior Analyst to it. An attorney, his areas of expertise include international law, international and domestic criminal law, security affairs in Europe and the Middle East, and human rights.