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Why is Brittney Griner in a Russian jail? What's the offer to get her out?

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in Russian prison in a sentence that US President Joe Biden has deemed "unacceptable", but what did she do and what's the government's plan to get her out? 

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison in a sentence US President Joe Biden has deemed "unacceptable" after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at the airport in February. 

The nine-year sentence was close to the maximum of 10 years that Ms Griner had faced under the charges. 

So, who is Brittney Griner and will she really be locked up in Russia for nine years?

Who is Brittney Griner?

Ms Griner plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the Women's National Basketball Association and is regarded as one of the league's best players of all time.

She won Olympic gold medals for the US in 2016 and 2020.

Brittney Griner on the substitutes bench during the Game 2 of basketball's WNBA Finals against the Chicago SkyBrittney Griner on the substitutes bench during the Game 2 of basketball's WNBA Finals against the Chicago Sky
Brittney Griner has been playing for Phoenix Mercury since 2013.(AP Photo Rick Scuteri)

Griner had travelled to Russia to play in the Russian Premier League during the WNBA's off-season when she was accused of having the vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

Her detention was first announced by Russia on March 6 and her trial began on July 1, when she pleaded guilty to the charges.

“I would like to plead guilty on the charges against me. But I had no intention of breaking any Russian law," Ms Griner said when she took the stand last month.

She has since been convicted in Russia of drug possession and smuggling, and was sentenced to nine years behind bars.

Where is she being held?

During her trial Ms Griner was being held at Correctional Colony No. 1, or IK-1, just outside of Moscow, according to the New York Times.

It's described as a grey, artificially lit facility.

Now that she has been convicted, Ms Griner will be moved to a general regime penal colony, Judge Anna Sotnikova ordered.

"[The court has stated] by cumulation of crimes to impose imprisonment for nine years and a fine at a rate of 1 million roubles [$23,000]," the judge ruled.

"The punishment is to be served in general regime penal colony. The fine has to be paid directly to the banking details named in the verdict."

Basketball community shares support

America's WNBA community has showed solidarity with Ms Griner on Twitter.

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Phoenix Mercury described the verdict as a "sobering milestone" in the case, stating the club remains "heartbroken for her".

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Before their game today, the Conneticut Sun and Phoenix Mercury gathered in the centre of the court for a moment of silence in Ms Griner's honour.

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NBA finals MVP Stephen Curry wore Ms Griner’s jersey under his tracksuit at the ESPY Awards show and urged "the entire global sports community to continue to stay energised on her behalf".

What's the offer to get her out?

The US is pushing for Moscow to accept a deal that aims to secure the release of Ms Griner that would see her, alongside former US Marine Paul Whelan, exchanged with Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout in a prisoner swap.

"It's a serious proposal. We urge them to accept it. They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it," said White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, without offering details.

A tall Black woman wearing wire-framed glasses and a grey T-shirt stands in a prison sellA tall Black woman wearing wire-framed glasses and a grey T-shirt stands in a prison sell
Joe Biden is "receiving regular updates" about negotiations for the release of Ms Griner.(AP News: Evgenia Novozhenina)

Officially, Moscow has only told the US to pursue "quiet diplomacy, without releases of speculative information".

However, a source familiar with the proceedings told Reuters Russia had tried to add convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov, who is in prison in Germany, to the proposed swap.

When asked on Thursday if Washington would be willing to reconsider Russia's request, Mr Kirby dismissed it: "I don't think we go so far as to even call it a counter-offer."

Mr Biden is "receiving regular updates" about negotiations for the release of Ms Griner, Mr Whelan and others deemed wrongfully detained, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Mr Biden said his administration would "continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible".

ABC/wires

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