WNBA star Griner appeals Russian prison term amid swap talks

Bloomberg News

WNBA star Brittney Griner appealed her nine-year prison sentence imposed by a Moscow court as the US and Russia pursue talks on a possible exchange involving her and another jailed American.

Griner’s defense team filed the appeal, her lawyer Maria Blagovolina said Monday. The 31-year-old basketball star was convicted on drug charges Aug. 8 after being arrested at a Moscow airport in February when customs officials found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty last month, saying her action was unintentional.

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A senior Russian Foreign Ministry official, Alexander Darchiyev, said at the weekend that negotiations with the U.S. are underway on a swap deal that includes Griner, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death.” Bout has long been the target of Kremlin efforts to release him after the U.S. sentenced him to 25 years in 2012.

“Quiet diplomacy” is continuing and if it continues, could bear fruit, Darchiyev told Tass. The US has proposed a swap for Bout and a second Russian, but it’s unclear whether the two sides are getting close to agreeing on the person to add to the arrangement.

President Joe Biden has called Griner’s punishment “unacceptable” and said the White House would work tirelessly for her release. Whelan was jailed in Moscow in 2020 on espionage charges that he denies.

FILE - US Basketball player Brittney Griner looks through bars as she listens to the verdict standing in a cage in a courtroom in Khimki, outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Lawyers for American basketball star Brittney Griner on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 filed an appeal of her nine-year Russian prison sentence for drugs possession. Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted on Aug. 4. She was arrested in February at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP, File)