Jul 21, 2022 - World

U.S. must respect Russian law in Brittney Griner case, Moscow says

Brittney Griner in Russian court in Moscow on July 15.

Brittney Griner in Russian court in Moscow on July 15. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images

Russia's Foreign Ministry criticized the U.S. on Thursday for describing WNBA star Brittney Griner as "wrongfully detained," saying the claim shows disrespect for Russian law, according to AP.

Why it matters: Griner, who has been imprisoned since February, pleaded guilty this month to drug charges that carry up to 10 years in prison. Her trial is set to resume Tuesday; it's unclear how long it will last.

  • Russian authorities claimed they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage during an airport search. Her lawyer said she did not mean to break the law and unintentionally brought the cartridges into the country.
  • Griner's detention in a Russian jail was repeatedly extended while she awaited trial.
  • The U.S. Department of State said in May that Griner was wrongfully detained by Russia.

What they're saying: “If a U.S. citizen was taken in connection with the fact that she was smuggling drugs, and she does not deny this, then this should be commensurate with our Russian, local laws, and not with those adopted in San Francisco, New York and Washington,” Russia's foreign minister said Thursday, according to AP.

  • Griner, in a handwritten letter to President Biden earlier this month, said she is "terrified I might be here forever" and called on his administration to help her and other American detainees in Russia.
  • “I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home,” she wrote. “I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates!"

The big picture: Former Marine Trevor Reed, who was held in a Russian prison since 2019 before being released in April through a prisoner exchange, called on the Biden administration in June to increase efforts to release Griner from detention in Russia, even if it means additional prisoner exchanges.

  • Reed said the Biden administration should also work to release former Marine Paul Whelan, who in 2020 was sentenced by a Russian court to 16 years in prison on spying charges that he and his family said are false.
  • State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in an interview in April that the exchange to free Reed could not be used as a model for other cases.
  • The U.S. warned earlier this year that the Kremlin may be specifically targeting Americans for arrest, potentially for the purpose of exchanging them for Russians held in American prisons.

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