KIMKI, Russia – The Biden administration has offered Russia a deal to bring back WNBA star Britney Grenier and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan. This was confirmed by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Wednesday.
Blinken also said he expected to speak with his Kremlin counterpart for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The announcement is the first time the US government has publicly revealed concrete measures to secure the release of Grenier, who has been arrested on drug charges.
It is difficult at the moment to confirm when the offer will be made and whether it will be enough for Russia to release the Americans.
Greiner testified Wednesday at his trial that he inadvertently brought medicinal cannabis to Russia and never intended to smuggle the drug.
The 31-year-old is considered one of the best in the world, and he played in the off-season for a club in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals.
She was arrested upon arrival at Moscow airport in February with cannabis vaping liquid that she said had been prescribed to her by a doctor.
For drug smuggling, Britney Greiner faces 10 years in prison.
This trial is heavily tainted by geopolitics as tensions between Moscow and Washington have come to a head with the conflict in Ukraine. Many observers suspect that Russia is using the issue for a future prisoner exchange with the United States.
The player, who was wearing a black “Phoenix” jersey (her club city is in the United States), showed off photos of her relatives and her wife on Wednesday before the start of the hearing at the Khimki court near Moscow, where she was. The trial since early July.
“I had no idea, nor did I plan to bring banned substances into Russia,” the double Olympic champion said, from the cage designated for the defendants.
She explained that she uses medical cannabis legally in the United States, by prescription and only on her days off, out of competition, to relieve the multiple “pains” related to her intense basketball practice.
“Because of all the injuries that I had during this long period of basketball, it extends from my back to the cartilage. I was in a wheelchair for 4 months, twisting my ankle,” she explained.
“You are guilty”
The American player claimed that he inadvertently took cannabis cartridges with her before leaving for Russia.
“I still don’t understand how it ended up in my bag. I didn’t intend to break Russian law […] If I had to speculate how it ended up in my bag, I’d say so because I was in such a hurry to get my stuff done.”
“She simply forgot to recheck her things,” said one of her lawyers, Alexander Boylov, while the defense claimed she may have suffered from amnesia because she had just suffered from the violent coronavirus.
Britney Grenier also claimed that she did not follow the recommendations of the US authorities not to go to Russia at this time, because she did not want to “let down” her colleagues in Russia.
Many players go to play with clubs abroad during the breaks in the American season, attracting them with much higher salaries than in the United States.
The basketball player also returned to her conditions of detention after her arrest at the airport. She claims she was held for long hours without a phone and without an interpreter, before she was finally able to notify her lawyer, her employer and her relatives.
“In seven years of traveling to Asia and Russia, I have never seen so many people working [dans cet aéroport] At that day “.
Over the next few days, she says, she was taken to court, where she was asked to sign documents that “were not properly translated”. “In general, this means that you are guilty,” a Russian interpreter told her.
US President Joe Biden has made his release a “priority” after he was accused of not doing enough on the issue.