Russian court sentences US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years

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Russian court sentences US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years

A Russian court has sentenced US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison on drugs charges after she was found guilty of narcotics possession and smuggled for bringing cannabis-infused vape cartridges into Russia.

A Russian state prosecutor had asked 9.5 years in prison for Ms Griner, who said in her closing remarks that bringing the cartridges into Russia had been an honest mistake. Her sentencing could lead to a high-profile prisoner swap between Russia and the United States, which would include the 31-year-old athlete and an imprisoned Russian who was once a prolific arms dealer.

Ms Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Women's National Basketball Association star, pleaded with a Russian judge not to end her life by indicting herself with a harsh prison sentence for bringing in vape cartridges containing hashish oil, before breaking down in tears in court.

She was arrested on February 17 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty, but said she did not intend to bring a banned substance to Russia, nor hurt anybody.

She implored the judge to recognize her actions as a mistake in a teary statement before the verdict.

The Texan athlete was thrown into a geopolitical maelstrom triggered by Russian President Vladimir Putin sending troops into Ukraine in February.

During the most strained US-Russian relations since the Cold War, US President Joe Biden is under pressure to intervene on behalf of Americans held in Russia.

He wasted little time in response to the ruling.

Mr Biden said on Thursday that the sentencing was unacceptable and called for Moscow to release her immediately.

American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney, he said.

The United States has said that Ms Griner was wrongfully detained and offered to exchange Russian prisoners for American citizens, including Ms Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.

One source familiar with the situation said Washington was willing to exchange convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout whose life inspired the Hollywood film Lord of War in 2005 starring Nicholas Cage.

Russian officials said that a deal hasn't been reached. They argue that Griner, known as BG, to basketball fans, was in violation of laws and should be judged accordingly.