What is Brittney Griner’s Next Step?

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By pleading guilty to drug charges in a Russian courtroom this week, the American basketball star Brittney Griner has potentially accelerated her case’s conclusion, clearing a path for either a deal with the United States or, perhaps, a request for clemency.

Experts say that a guilty verdict is almost certain in Russia’s legal system, which favors prosecution. Her best hope of freedom, experts believe, is for the Biden administration to release a Russian detained in the United States. Name of one prisoner has emerged in particular: Viktor BoutA 25-year sentence was served on a Russian arms dealer.

Russian officials claim that any negotiation of this nature can only take place after all formalities have been completed in the Griner trial.

“It is clear that we have not completed the necessary judicial procedures,” a deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, told Russian news agencies on Thursday when asked about a potential exchange. “Until this happens, there are no nominal, formal or procedural grounds for any further steps.”

Ms. Griner remains in the trial’s conviction and sentencing stages. Her next court appearance is set for Thursday, August 14.

Ms. Griner is charged with illegal drug possession and with smuggling a “significant amount.” Appearing before a judge outside the Russian capital on the second day of her trial, Ms. Griner said she had unintentionally carried a banned substance into the country because she had packed in a hurry. Russian authorities claimed that Ms. Griner was carrying 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in vape cartridges in her luggage. She was taken into custodySince then, I have been facing 10 years imprisonment in a penal colony.

It appeared that her advisors could be helping to lay the foundation for diplomatic efforts between U.S. officials and Russian officials, hours after her Thursday guilty plea.

“Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and B.G.’s personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence,” her legal team said in a statement.

American officials insist that all efforts are being made to free Ms. Griner, a 31-year-old W.N.B.A.A. member. All-Star is a two-time Olympic gold-medalist and was the first openly homosexual athlete to be signed to a Nike endorsement contract. At Thursday’s hearing, the chargé d’affaires at the American Embassy in Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, handed Ms. Griner a letter from President Biden.

But with tensions between the United States and Russia at their worst level in decades because of President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Biden has few options to secure her freedom.

Mr. Ryabkov has hinted that Moscow was interested in negotiating over Ms. Griner’s fate, saying that she would be helped by “a serious reading by the American side of the signals that they received from Russia, from Moscow, through specialized channels.”

Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that on Friday, Mr. Ryabkov emphasized that any such negotiations should be conducted privately. “As for any exchange formulas, our stance is unwavering: This should be done in private, using the available channels,” he told reporters. “I am not sure that any additional activity, especially any activity conducted in public, can help reach a correct, balanced compromise.”

Ms. Griner could spend years in prison if there is no deal.

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