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Brittney Griner pleads guilty to drug charges

WNBA star has been detained since February

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(Bigstock photo)

MOSCOW — WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday pleaded guilty to charges that she smuggled drugs in Russia.

“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor, but there was no intent,” Griner told a Moscow judge during the second hearing in her trial that began last week, according to the New York Times. “I didn’t want to break the law.”

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner, — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

Brittney Griner earlier this week pleaded directly to President Joe Biden to help secure her release. The White House on Tuesday received a letter signed by 1,200 Black women who urge the administration to bring Brittney Griner back to the U.S.

“The letter is support — support from a group of Black women who are trying to save another Black woman. It’s as simple as that,” Dawn Staley, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and head basketball coach at the University of South Carolina, told the Washington Post. “I think about Brittney throughout the entire day, every day. I try to put myself in her shoes, and I’d want somebody fighting for me — people who won’t shut up.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, on Tuesday also asked Biden to arrange a “prayer visit” for Brittney Griner.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday spoke with Cherelle Griner.

The White House in a statement said Biden read Cherelle Griner his response to her wife’s letter. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood on Thursday told reporters outside court that she delivered the letter to Brittney Griner.

Brittney Griner faces up to 10 years in prison. 

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Thursday said his government would only negotiate Brittney Griner’s potential release with the U.S. once the court issues its verdict.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken after Brittney Griner’s guilty plea reiterated the Biden administration remains committed to securing her release.

“We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones,” tweeted Blinken.

Caris White contributed to this story.

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Putin slams LGBTQ+ people in Ukrainian annexation speech

The Russian President implied directly that the U.S. and its NATO allies assisting Ukraine were trying to erase Russian culture

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Screenshot/YouTube AFP/NBC

MOSCOW – In a rally ceremony resembling a political convention Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated his signing a degree that Russia had annexed four regions of Eastern Ukraine that were overrun by Russian military forces and Russian-backed separatists.

“The people made their choice,” said Putin in the formal signing ceremony at the Kremlin’s St. George hall. “And that choice won’t be betrayed” by Russia, he said.

This past week, in an election President Joe Biden labeled fraudulent and a sham, Ukrainians in the occupied territories of of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia voted to join Russia in elections supervised by heavily armed Russian troops.

Speaking from the White House Friday, Biden said the United States and its allies will not recognize Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian regions and reaffirmed that NATO nations will defend all territory in the alliance.

Addressing the Russian leader, the president said “Mr. Putin, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Every inch.”

America and its allies are not going to – I’m going to emphasize, are not going to be intimidated, are not going to be intimidated by Putin and his reckless words and threats. He’s not going to scare us and he doesn’t- or intimidate us.

Putin’s actions are a sign he’s struggling. The sham referenda he carried out and this routine he put on, don’t worry, it’s not there if you’re looking, OK. The sham routine that we put on this morning that’s showing the unity and people holding hands together. Well, the United States is never going to recognize this and quite frankly, the world is not going to recognize it either. He can’t seize his neighbor’s territory and get away with it. It’s as simple as that.

And they’re going to stay the course. We’re going to continue to provide military equipment so that Ukraine can defend itself and its territory and its freedom, […] And we’re fully prepared to defend, I want to say this again, America is fully prepared with our NATO allies to defend every single inch of NATO’s territory, every single inch. So Mr. Putin, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Every inch.”

Putin in his long and rambling speech at the ceremony, held on the massive stage in Moscow’s Red Square opposite the Kremlin’s walls, took aim at the West with particular emphasis on Western values and culture(s).

“Western countries have been repeating for centuries that they bring freedom and democracy to other peoples. Everything is exactly the opposite: instead of democracy – suppression and exploitation; instead of freedom – enslavement and violence.,” Putin said.

Later during the speech Putin decried the LGBTQ+ community and Western nations that allow equity and equality/human rights:

“In fact, they spit on the natural right of billions of people, most of humanity, to freedom and justice, to determine their own future on their own. Now they have completely moved to a radical denial of moral norms, religion, and family.

Let’s answer some very simple questions for ourselves. I now want to return to what I said, I want to address all the citizens of the country – not only to those colleagues who are in the hall – to all the citizens of Russia: do we want to have, here, in our country, in Russia, parent number one, number two, number three instead of mom and dad – have they gone made out there? Do we really want perversions that lead to degradation and extinction to be imposed on children in our schools from the primary grades? To be drummed into them that there are various supposed genders besides women and men, and to be offered a sex change operation? Do we want all this for our country and our children? For us, all this is unacceptable, we have a different future, our own future?”

The Russian President then implied directly that the U.S. and its NATO allies assisting Ukraine were trying to erase Russian culture and then justified the illegal annexations of the four regions in Eastern Ukraine:

“Today we are fighting so that it would never occur to anyone that Russia, our people, our language, our culture can be taken and erased from history. Today, we need the consolidation of the entire society, and such cohesion can only be based on sovereignty, freedom, creation, and justice. Our values ​​are humanity, mercy and compassion.

And I want to end my speech with the words of a true patriot Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin: “If I consider Russia my Motherland, then this means that I love in Russian, contemplate and think, sing and speak Russian; that I believe in the spiritual strength of the Russian people. His spirit is my spirit; his fate is my fate; his suffering is my grief; its flowering is my joy.”

Behind these words is a great spiritual choice, which for more than a thousand years of Russian statehood was followed by many generations of our ancestors. Today we are making this choice, the citizens of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, the residents of Zaporozhye and Kherson regions have made this choice. They made the choice to be with their people, to be with the Motherland, to live its destiny, to win together with it.”

The Russian president has long held homophobic and transphobic opinions and has signed multiple pieces of legislation that has sharply curtailed LGBTQ+ rights and expression in the Russian Federation during his 18 years as president including Russia’s infamous Don’t Say Gay law signed in 2013 that has been strengthened and augmented by succeeding measures.

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Brittney Griner appeals 9-year prison sentence in Russia

Russian court on Aug. 4 convicted WNBA star of drug smuggling.

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A Brittney Griner mural in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

MOSCOW — Lawyers for WNBA star Brittney Griner on Monday appealed the nine-year prison sentence she received earlier this month after a Russian court convicted her of smuggling drugs into the country.

The court on Aug. 4 convicted Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner — and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony.

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Brittney Griner after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department subsequently determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

Brittney Griner in July pleaded guilty to the drug smuggling charges.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has publicly acknowledged the U.S. has offered Russia a deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence after his conviction for spying.

American officials have reportedly expressed a willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a prisoner swap.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week said his country was “ready to discuss” a potential deal with the U.S. A spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry later confirmed negotiations between the two countries over a potential prisoner swap have begun.

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Russian official confirms negotiations over WNBA star Brittney Griner 

Speaking publicly last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had confirmed that he was “ready to discuss” a potential deal

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Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev (Screenshot/YouTube)

MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev told Russian reporters in a press briefing on Thursday, that negotiations are underway to release WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan in a prisoner exchange.

Speaking publicly last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had confirmed that he was “ready to discuss” a potential deal, however, the comments today from his spokesperson were the first public acknowledgement that talks were ongoing.

According to Nechayev, the talks are happening within the parameters previously set for diplomatic communications between the two super-powers by Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden.

“We proceed from the fact that the negotiations should take the interests of both sides into account,” he stressed to reporters “We would recommend abandoning futile attempts to put pressure on us and we are calling on them to concentrate on practical work along the available channels. There is no other way,” Nechayev added.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had previously acknowledged the U.S. has offered Russia a deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence after his conviction for spying.

Nechayev had noted that the exchange of prisoners was one of the topics discussed in a telephone conversation between the Russian Foreign Minister and the U.S. Secretary of State in late July.

Although specific details have not been made public, U.S. officials had offered Moscow to exchange Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who is serving a prison term in the US for arms trafficking, for Griner, sentenced to jail for drugs trafficking, and Whelan, a former U.S. Marine and American businessman, convicted in Russia of spying.

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