Brittney Griner

‘Where Politics Are Decided': Brittney Griner Faces Trial in Russia

The WNBA star and Houston native was arrested near Moscow in February

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More than four months after her arrest in Russia, Brittney Griner finally has a trial date.

The fate of the WNBA star and Houston native will be decided later this week.

In a courthouse near Moscow on Monday, Griner stayed silent when questioned by reporters as she headed into a closed-door hearing.

Her trial is set to start on Friday.


“I’d be very careful or cautious about looking at the trial like it's a normal trial. Russian courts are not courts of law, really. They're places where politics are decided,” said Brian Whitmore, an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Arlington and expert on Russian affairs.

Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, played in Russia during WNBA's offseason. She was arrested at an airport near Moscow on Feb. 17 and accused of having vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis in her luggage.

Last month, the U.S. State Department classified Griner as wrongfully detained and shifted oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs --effectively the U.S. government's chief negotiator.

“I would strongly disagree with that. We cannot call her hostage. She violated Russian law and now she's being prosecuted,” Russia Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told NBC News last week.


Back in the U.S., a campaign to bring Griner home is gaining momentum.

After months of remaining relatively quiet, her friends and family members are speaking out.

“BG is our soft spot. She's our place of peace, She’s our entire world,” said Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife.

Last week, more than 40 organizations signed a letter urging President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to make a deal to bring Griner home, a deal Whitmore says won't happen unless Russia gets what it wants.

“My understanding of what the Russians want out of this is they want Viktor Bout,” Whitmore said.

Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer, was convicted in 2011 in New York of terrorism crimes including conspiring to kill Americans.

He's serving a 25-year sentence at a federal prison in Illinois.

Bout's attorney reportedly told TAAS Russian News Agency he thinks the exchange is imminent. NBC News hasn't confirmed the report.

“It’s very transitional. It’s a very high-value hostage. To us, this is an American citizen and a great athlete. To them, it's a chip to be traded,” Whitmore said.

Griner is charged with "large-scale transportation of drugs."

The Associated Press reported fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the U.S., acquittals can be overturned.

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