Basketballer Brittney Griner pleads guilty to drug charges in Russia

Brittney Griner walks to the court

Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian court but has denied deliberately breaking the law.

The WNBA player and Olympic gold medallist was detained in February at an airport near Moscow after Russian authorities accused her of having a vape cartridge with hashish oil in her luggage.

Appeared in Khimki Court on Friday (7 July), Brittney said: “I’d like to plead guilty, your honour. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law”.

“I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare,” she added, per Reuters.

If she is convicted, the WNBA player may face up to a decade in a Russian penal colony. Brittney’s next court hearing is scheduled for 14 July.

US secretary of state Anthony Blinken said US Embassy Moswock officials delivered Brittney a letter from US president Joe Biden. It comes after Brittney wrote to Biden personally, begging him and his administration not to “forget” her.

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

Biden and vice president Kamala Harris spoke on Wednesday with Brittney’s wife, Cherelle Griner, according to a statement released by the White House. During the call, Biden read the letter he sent to Brittney on Wednesday.

“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,” the statement said.

The White House added that Biden has directed the national security team to be in “regular contact” with Cherelle and Brittney’s families.

Elizabeth Rood, the chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Moscow, confirmed Brittney has seen the letter.

“She said that she’s eating well, she’s able to read books, and under the circumstances, she’s doing well,” Rood said, NPR reported.

She added: “I would like again to emphasise the commitment of the US government at the very highest level to bring home safely Ms Griner and all US citizens wrongfully detained.”

Police detained Griner, 31, at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Since then, her loved ones have had severely limited contact with her, with Griner unable to make telephone calls.

Griner’s guilty plea came after a top Russian official accused the Biden administration of “fomenting hype” around Griner.

Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said the publicity around the case is not helping to “resolve the issue” but added Russia is willing to negotiate after the court reaches a verdict, according to the state-run news service Tass.