Brittney Griner, the American basketball star whose imprisonment in Russia became entangled in wartime politics, pleaded guilty to drug charges today (July 7) in an apparent bid for leniency.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent,” Griner in a court statement obtained by Reuters. “I didn’t want to break the law… I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare.”
Griner, a two-time Olympic champion who plays in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17, when police said they found cannabis oil in her possession at the Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow.
Griner’s guilty plea follows a call US president Joe Biden made to her wife, Cherelle Griner, a day earlier.
“The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” read a statement from the White House posted on its website. “[Biden] also read her a draft of the letter the President is sending to Brittney today… The President offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home.”
Griner was also a star in Russia, but the Ukraine conflict got in the way
Biden’s call to Griner’s family came after a number of high-profile voices in politics and spots urged the US government to intervene. The pressure mounted when a letter from Griner to Biden was revealed by ESPN on July 4.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote. “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.”
Griner’s case has been complicated by its timing. The athlete was jailed just days before the start of the Ukraine conflict, immediately turning the case into a potential political bargaining chip for Russia. She could face up to 10 years in prison.