Moscow warns Washington over Griner ‘pantomime’
American officials are not helping the fate of basketball star Brittney Griner and should refrain from attempts to apply political pressure on Moscow as Griner’s trial on drugs charges continues in Russia, according to Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
The US State Department has officially classified Griner as “wrongfully detained” after the 31-year-old was arrested at a Moscow airport in mid-February when banned hashish vape oil cartridges were found in her luggage.
Griner has pleaded guilty and her trial continues on Tuesday at Khimki City Court just outside Moscow. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in jail.
Moscow has consistently rejected claims that Griner is being used as a “political pawn,” insisting that she must face Russian law and should not be granted exemptions because she is a foreigner.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zakharova reiterated that position on Thursday, also taking aim at the recent US decision to add Russia to the list of countries where American citizens supposedly face the risk of being arbitrarily detained, which she described as a “political, illegitimate” decision.
“If drugs are legalized in the United States in a number of states, and this has been the case for a long time – I think now the whole country will become drug-addicted – it doesn’t mean that every other country is following the same path,” Zakharova said, addressing Griner’s case.
“If a US citizen was taken [in Russia] in connection with the fact that she was smuggling drugs, and she doesn’t deny this, then this should be commensurate with Russian, local laws, and not those applied in San Francisco, New York, and Washington.”
Griner’s legal team last week showed evidence that she had been prescribed medical use of cannabis back in the US as part of her defense.
The player herself said says the vape cartridges ended up in her luggage by mistake as she was packing in a hurry before a trip to Russia, where she was due to play for women’s team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the offseason in her homeland.
Zakharova added at her weekly briefing that loud proclamations about Griner’s supposedly wrongful detention were counterproductive, and that the US “tactic” of attempting to apply political pressure on Russia “will not work, we’ve said that several times.”
Instead, Zakharova said that issues should be resolved in a “calm, professional atmosphere” according to established channels.
The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman criticized what she described as “pantomime activity” by Washington designed purely to make out to the American population that the Biden administration was taking care of the interests of its citizens, when in reality that was far from the case.
Unconfirmed reports have claimed that Griner could be swapped for Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who is serving 25 years in a US jail after allegations of arms smuggling.
Russian officials have said that no discussions on the topic are underway, reiterating that Griner’s trial must run its course and emphasizing that the Kremlin does not interfere in legal proceedings.
Griner, who plays for US team the Mercury Phoenix, is widely regarded as among the greatest women’s basketball players of all time, and is a double Olympic gold medalist.
She had traveled to Russia on a lucrative deal to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason since 2015, winning numerous titles with the team.