Brittney Griner Appeals Drug Conviction in Russia, Lawyers Say

Security team for Brittney GrinerThe American basketball star sentenced to prison in Russia for drug smuggling said on Monday it had appealed the ruling as Russian diplomats began talking more openly about a potential prisoner exchange with the United States.

Maria Blagovolina, a partner at the law firm representing Griner, confirmed the appeal of the ruling made this month by the Khimki Municipal Court outside Moscow.

Ms. Griner’s legal team has said the appeal is expected to take up to three months to be heard. Russian officials have said that all legal avenues must be exhausted before a potential exchange can be discussed.

But over the weekend, Aleksandr Darchiev, a senior Russian diplomat, said that political negotiations with the United States were already underway, including a discussion of Russians organized by the United States, those whom Moscow freed to seek the freedom of Mrs. Griner.

“The discussion on the rather sensitive topic of the prisoner exchange of Russian and American citizens has been taking place on the channels proposed by the two presidents,” said Darchiev, director of the North American division at the Foreign Ministry. Russia, told TASS, a state news agency.

Mr. Darchiev identified one Russian whom Moscow is seeking release, as Viktor Bout, a jailed Russian arms dealer. Mr. Darchiev said that Griner was like Paul Whelan, a former US Marine was convicted by a court in Moscow of espionagewere discussed as potential candidates for an exchange.

The Biden Administration provided to release Mr. Bout in exchange for Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan, according to people familiar with the proposal. Ms Griner’s attorneys had previously said they could withdraw the appeal in case it impeded the exchange.

The case of Miss Griner, who was detained at a Russian airport in February and allegedly carrying a vape box with hash oil in her luggage, became entangled bad relationship between Russia and the United States after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. This month, a Russian judge sentenced Ms. Griner up to nine years in a penal colony. US officials have said that she was “wrongfully detained” and that her trial was politically motivated.

A day after the ruling, top US and Russian diplomats said their governments were ready to negotiate the release of both the US basketball star and Mr. Whelan. The diplomats, Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said in separate press conferences that the talks would be conducted through a channel established by their two presidents.

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