August 4, 2022 Brittney Griner verdict and Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Ivana Kottasová and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 3:33 a.m. ET, August 5, 2022
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11:07 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Russian court finds WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent

Brittney Griner is escorted to the courtroom to hear the court's final decision in Khimki, Russia, on August 4.
Brittney Griner is escorted to the courtroom to hear the court's final decision in Khimki, Russia, on August 4. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

A Russian court has found Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent.

The judge at Khimki court in the Moscow region is still reading out the verdict. The judge is now going through the facts of the case, the witnesses called and their testimonies.

Some background: The 31-year-old Olympic gold medalist was arrested at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said in the Khimki city courthouse on Thursday. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom."

"I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws," she said.

She pleaded guilty to drug charges last month in what her lawyers say was an attempt to take responsibility and receive leniency.

In closing arguments Thursday, a prosecutor asked for 9.5 years of jail time for Griner, according to defense lawyer Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm.

Blagovolina argued that Griner never used marijuana in Russia and that she never had the intention of doing so. She had no need to bring the vape cartridges to Russia, the lawyer added.

11:13 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Griner is back in the courtroom

Brittney Griner listens to a verdict in a courtroom in Khimki, Russia, on Thursday, August 4.
Brittney Griner listens to a verdict in a courtroom in Khimki, Russia, on Thursday, August 4. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AP)

WNBA star Brittney Griner is now back inside a Russian courtroom for her verdict announcement, which is expected to be delivered shortly.

9:30 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

White House says Russia is planning to falsify evidence to frame Ukrainian forces for prison attack

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

Olenivka prison in Donetsk seen in a satellite photo provided by Maxar Technologies on July 30, following the attack on the facility.
Olenivka prison in Donetsk seen in a satellite photo provided by Maxar Technologies on July 30, following the attack on the facility. (Maxar Technologies/AP)

White House officials believe Russia is preparing to falsify evidence to blame Ukrainian forces for the deadly blast at the Olenivka prison ahead of visits to the site by outside parties.

An administration official told CNN they expect Russia will falsify evidence, blame Ukrainian forces and even have "reason to believe that Russia would go so far as to make it appear that Ukrainian HIMARS were to blame before journalists arrive.”

The US supplied Ukraine with the HIMARS multiple launch rocket system earlier this year. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said the attack on the prison, which is in separatist-held eastern Ukraine, was "a deliberate war crime by the Russians."

Russia has previously blamed Ukraine for the attack.

UN mission: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a Wednesday news conference that the UN is seeking to establish a fact-finding team to study the attack on the detention facility that resulted in at least 50 deaths and dozens of injuries of Ukrainian prisoners of war. 

Russia and Ukraine both requested an investigation into the attack, Guterres told reporters in New York. He added that the terms of reference for the panel would need to be accepted by Russia and Ukraine before the fact-finding mission would begin. 

Ukraine blames mercenary group: The Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Intelligence department claimed Wednesday that the detonation of the building where Ukrainian soldiers were held "was carried out by the fighters of the 'Wagner' military command center using a highly flammable substance, which led to the rapid spread of the fire in the premises."

Wagner is a private military contractor whose fighters have been involved in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as other conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. 

CNN is unable to verify the claim by the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence department, which provided no evidence to support its allegation.

What Russia is saying: The Russian government has rejected accusations from the White House that it is falsifying evidence.

“One thing can be said here, which is absolutely obvious and absolutely proven about what happened in Olenivka. People, namely the Ukrainian prisoners of war, who were kept there, they died at the hands of the Ukrainian military,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists in a call on Thursday. 

“Ukraine killed its soldiers who were in captivity. Many wounded. Therefore, there is hard evidence here and there is nothing to hide,” Peskov said. 

In Thursday’s call, Peskov said Russia had invited the UN and the ICRC to visit the site. However, in a statement issued on Wednesday, the ICRC said it still had not been given access to the site.

CNN's Uliana Pavlova contributed reporting to this post.

9:31 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Unexploded shells and abandoned pets: Inside a village recaptured from Russians

The village of Ivanivka in southern Ukraine has been recaptured from Russian forces following a two-week artillery battle.

It remains deserted. A commander of Ukraine's Air Force reconnaissance unit joins CNN on the ground to show what's left behind.

9:26 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

8 civilians killed in Russian shelling of Donetsk town, according to Ukrainian authorities

From CNN's Olga Voitovych 

Bodies of people killed in the town of Toretsk in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, on August 4.
Bodies of people killed in the town of Toretsk in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, on August 4. (Press service of the Donetsk Regional Military-Civil Administration/Reuters)

Ukrainian authorities said eight people were killed Thursday by Russian shelling in the town of Toretsk in the Donetsk region.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of Donetsk regional military administration, said four others had been injured, three of them children. He said a shell had hit a transportation stop.

Toretsk is south of the town of Bakhmut and is frequently hit by shelling.

Repeating the government's appeal for people to evacuate the region, Kyrylenko said: "All those who still remain in Donetsk region are putting themselves in mortal danger. ... Do not turn yourself into a Russian target!"

9:19 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Griner tells Russian court she made an "honest mistake"

From CNN's Masha Angelova

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner stands inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, on August 4.
U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner stands inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, on August 4. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

A visibly emotional Brittney Griner told the Khimki court near Moscow that she wanted to apologize to her Russian team, to her fans and to her family, for the “embarrassment she caused them."

Griner said that had no intention to break the Russian law and that she made a mistake.

"That’s why I pled guilty to my charges. I understand everything that’s been said against me, the charges that are against me and that is why I pled guilty, but I had no intent to break any Russian laws," she said.

The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges last month in what her lawyers say was an attempt to take responsibility and receive leniency if she is ultimately convicted and sentenced. 

"I made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn't end my life here," Griner said.

The judge, Anna Sotnikova, before going to deliberate, said the court will reconvene at 17:45 p.m. local time (which is 10:45 a.m. ET) today, when a verdict will be announced. 

9:18 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Griner's lawyer argues that WNBA star never intended to use marijuana in Russia

From CNN's Masha Angelova, Anna Chernova and Zahra Ullah 

Attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov and U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner speak before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, on August 4.
Attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov and U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner speak before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, on August 4. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Defense lawyer Maria Blagovolina — partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners law firm — said in her closing statement at the Khimki court near Moscow that WNBA star Brittney Griner never used marijuana in Russia and that she never had the intention of doing so.

Griner had no need to bring the vape cartridges to Russia, the lawyer added. All this confirms the complete absence of intent in her actions, Blagovolina argued.

Even if Griner ever used medical marijuana, it was only at home back in Arizona, where it is legal, very rarely, in the short periods between competitions and on vacation, only on the prescription of a doctor, the lawyer added.

Griner couldn't have known how strict the laws were in Russia, Blagovolina said.

Another Griner lawyer, Alexander Boykov, argued in the court that the WNBA star had no opportunity to properly examine the court documents.

Boykov said that the Russian constitution guarantees everyone the right to use their native language and the free choice of the language of communication. 

The lawyer said each person involved in court proceedings must be guaranteed the right to be provided with explanations and use the services of an interpreter for free.

Boykov cited an instance when a language interpreter provided to Griner told her, “basically, it means that you are guilty,” after flipping through a lengthy document offered by the investigator for translation.

Griner said in a brief remark during the hearing that she agreed with everything her lawyers said to the court in her defense. 

8:50 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Russia is finding alternative recruitment sources as it deals with personnel shortages, Western officials say

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

Russia is facing personnel shortages as it continues its offensive in Ukraine — and the country has had to find not only alternative recruiting methods but also to adapt the way it is fighting, according to Western officials.

“We do think that they have recruited from prisons, and they are obviously also working with private military companies to increase their resourcing levels,” Western officials said on Thursday.

“Fatalities and the wounded are obviously incredibly high," officials said, adding that it's not "something Russians anticipated at all.”

The officials estimate Russia has been deprived of around 75,000 service members from its fighting force, including up to 20,000 dead and 55,000 injured.

“They have been having real problems filling personnel gaps; they are trying to raise, essentially a third echelon,” the Western officials said. “Most of the [newer] recruits are still coming from rural areas rather than the urban cities and that's what we think is deliberate, but they have been having real problems filling personnel gaps.”

“They're having huge personnel challenges. That's why they're starting to reach for alternative mechanisms of recruitment,” the officials added. 

The Western officials said Moscow was also changing the way its forces operate on the battlefield. 

“Russia has changed the way it's fighting to adapt to reduction in personnel and skilled personnel, so they're fighting in smaller formations, company level rather than battalion or brigade level,” the officials said. “And that makes it easier for them to operate in some regards, but it also been limits the amount of progress they can make.”

8:03 a.m. ET, August 4, 2022

Western officials downplay risks at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after a watchdog warning

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Lauren Kent in London

Western officials say the situation in and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine is not as dire as has been portrayed after concerns were raised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 

IAEA director general Rafael Grossi told the AP new agency that the situation at the Zaporizhzhia NPP was “completely out of control.” 

“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” at the plant, he said in the exclusive interview published on Tuesday. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous.”

CNN has reached out to the IAEA independently for comment has not heard back.

Western officials have downplayed the actual danger, saying that, although they understand some of the IAEA’s concerns, they “don't think [the situation] is as dire as it is necessarily been painted in in the media at the moment.”

“We agree that for the IAEA to monitor that plant, it's really challenging and it is difficult for the IAEA to fulfil its mission,” the officials said. “But actually in terms of the safety and security of that site at the moment, whilst it is degraded in terms of like normal operating levels, it is still functioning and functioning effectively.”

The officials added that Ukraine would be careful not to strike the plant, even if Russia uses it as a launching platform for artillery strikes.

“Russia might use the site as a safe zone, from which to carry out defensive operations. Ukraine will consider very carefully how to avoid taking major risks around the site,” the officials said.

“Bear in mind that nuclear power plants are designed to withstand terrorist attacks including aircraft hitting reactors, etc,” the officials added. “So please don't think that we're looking at Chernobyl like situation that's not the case.”