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The Phoenix Mercury, Brittney Griner's WNBA team, held a 42-second moment of silence before their game on Thursday night. The number of seconds signifies Griner's jersey number, 42.
"We are steadfastly committed to keeping her top-of-mind publicly until she's safely back on American soil," the announcer said in a video of the moment posted on Twitter.
Players from the Mercury and the Connecticut Sun gathered in a circle in the middle of the court. Towards the end of the video some people in the arena started chanting "bring her home."
Griner was convicted of deliberately smuggling drugs into Russia and sentenced to nine years of jail time Thursday.
The verdict comes about six months after the 31-year-old was arrested at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges last month and said she accidentally packed the drugs while in a hurry.
Watch the moment:
WNBA Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard told CNN's Carolyn Manno that the guilty verdict and nine year sentence levied on the Mercury's Brittney Griner is "unacceptable."
Ahead of the Mercury’s game against the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night, Nygaard said, "We have carried this weight all year. To have this happen right now before a game. It's really challenging.
“There are a lot of people in the room that are close to BG. It's just heartbreaking. We know this verdict is unacceptable. But that doesn't make it sound any better. To hear her words and her apologies. Just trying to send love, prayers and strength to her. I was really amazed by her courage and her strength as I was listening to it today... She was so courageous," Nygaard said.
The US believes Russia is planning to falsify evidence to frame the Ukrainian armed forces for the Olenivka prison attack on July 29, John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, confirmed.
"We anticipate that Russian officials will try to frame the Ukrainian Armed Forces in anticipation of journalists and potential investigators visiting the site of the attack. In fact, we've already seen some spurious press reports to this effect, where they have planted evidence. We have reason to believe that Russia would go so far as to make it appear that Ukrainian HIMARS — the high mobility advanced rocket systems that have been so much in the news lately — were to blame. And to do that before journalists arrived on site, and again, we're beginning to even start to see some press reporting to that effect," Kirby told CNN's Jeremy Diamond when asked for further information on the reported plan to falsify evidence.
CNN reported Wednesday that the White House believes Russia will falsify evidence ahead of visits to the prison by outside parties.
On the detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner, Kirby elaborated further on what US President Joe Biden has been doing.
"When I say personally involved, I mean, he's, he's in constant touch with all the members of his team that are working on Brittney's case and it's not just Secretary of State Blinken. [It's] Jake Sullivan, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, the deputy Homeland Security adviser Josh Geltzer. I mean there's a lot of people involved in here and he's driving a process of continual updates that he can get from his team. He's offering guidance to them as needed," Kirby told CNN's Jeremy Diamond, adding, "You've seen that he has talked to Mrs. Griner herself, and I certainly would expect that he's going to continue to have those kinds of conversations going forward. He's staying focused on this."
Asked by CNN's Diamond if Biden would be willing to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Griner's Case, he said that they had no calls to readout or preview.
And on the decision to make the deal public, Kirby said, "Can we say that making it public had a direct line to bringing them home? Not yet, but we hope it will. We hope it will. We felt, we felt it was important to make sure the American people knew, but as well as people around the world, how seriously we're taking these two cases. And that, so seriously, in fact, that that we had made a proposal that we believe the Russians ought to accept and you will notice that the day after we did that the Russians started talking, even publicly. So I'll leave it at that."
And asked about CNN's reporting that the Department of Homeland Security is going to stop wiping mobile devices of high level officials and political appointees without backing them up first, Kirby declined to comment further.
The Ukrainian government and the Turkish Defense Ministry say three more ships are expected to leave Ukrainian ports Friday laden with grain.
Oleksandr Kubrakov, the Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister, said on Facebook that "from 5 to 8 in the morning, two ships are expected to depart from the port of Chornomorsk, as well as one from the port of Odesa. After that, a caravan will be formed, which, together with the leading ship, will go to the ports of destination."
He said the three bulk carriers will together carry more than 50 thousand tonnes of Ukrainian corn
"We hope for the professionalism of all those involved," Kubrakov said.
The Turkish Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, confirmed the three ships would be sailing under the auspices of the agreement signed by Turkey, the UN, Russia and Ukraine on July 22.
“As a result of the intense work and coordination at the [Joint Coordination] center, 3 ships are planned to set sail from Ukrainian ports... In addition, an empty ship is expected to move to Ukraine after being inspected in Istanbul," Akar said.
National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said that it’s “up to the Russian side” on whether the conviction of WNBA star Brittney Griner opens new doors for negotiations of a prisoner swap between the US and Russia.
“That’s really up to the Russian side. We’re still open to having our proposal seriously and positively considered and if on the Russian side, that means they feel like they’re more empowered to do that, then so be it,” Kirby said when asked by reporters in Thursday’s White House briefing.
Kirby reiterated the US’s position remains that they want Russia to “take the deal on the table because it’s a good one, it’s a fair one, and it’ll help bring Paul (Whelan) and Brittney home,” Kirby said, also referring to Paul Whelan.
“If this is what’s gonna take to get them to yes — than ok, let’s get to yes. Let’s get them home,” Kirby added.
Asked if the Russians were sending a message to the US by giving Griner so severe a sentence, Kirby suggested that may not be the case, noting similar extreme sentences for foreign nationals in Russia.
“Your question presupposes that it’s a message sending exercise, maybe it is, maybe it’s not. As I said, historically what we’ve seen is foreign born citizens that are arrested and convicted of drug charges tend to get — just historically, anecdotally speaking — tend to get higher sentences, almost to the max,” Kirby said, comparing those people to Russian born citizens.
“I wish I could get into the judge’s head. I can’t do it. So I cant define why he chose 9 years. As I said to Nancy it’s a reprehensible sentence. She shouldn’t have been on trial to begin with,” Kirby said.
WNBA star Brittney Griner’s lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, said that Griner’s defense team has 10 days to appeal the court’s decision, which found Griner guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced her to nine years of jail time.
Earlier today in a written statement following the court’s decision, both of Griner’s lawyers, Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said they would appeal.
Later, speaking to journalists outside the Khimki court near Moscow region, Boykov said that the average time in jail for this type of crime is five years, adding that almost a third of those convicted get a parole.
Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm, told journalists that Griner “is not doing fine today.”
Boykov added that the WNBA star passed through her lawyers a message for her family that is not to become public. Griner’s defense team is hopeful that she will be able to talk to her family next week.
Blagovolina added that Griner will return to the detention center she is currently kept at. Both lawyers agreed that Griner has been treated fine so far.
Asked about the prisoner swap offer by the US, Griner’s lawyers said they had no information.
“Unfortunately, we are not involved in the process,” Blagovolina said, responding to a question by CNN outside the court.
WNBA star Brittney Griner’s sentencing by a Russian court to nine years in prison with a fine of 1 million rubles, which is about $16,400 USD, “for nothing more than an unintentional oversight” is a “miscarriage of justice,” Charge d'Affaires of the US embassy in Russia Elizabeth Rood said Wednesday outside the court in Khimki, near Moscow.
“The US Department of State has determined that miss Griner is wrongfully detained. Nothing in today’s decision changes that determination,” Rood said.
Rood, who attended every session of Griner’s trial, said she will continue to be closely engaged and will remain in frequent contact with Griner and her lawyers.
“Secretary of State Blinken, President Biden’s national security team, and the entire American government remain committed to bringing miss Griner home safely to her family, friends and loved ones,” Rood added.
Rood said she had “no higher priority” than the safety and wellbeing of Griner and other US citizens detained in Russia.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a joint statement following a Russian court sentencing basketball player Brittney Griner to nine years of jail time, saying they are still hoping for her safe return.
“Today’s verdict and sentencing is unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained. The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States," the statement said.
Brittney Griner's WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, released the following statement on Thursday:
“While we knew it was never the legal process that was going to bring our friend home, today’s verdict is a sobering milestone in the 168-day nightmare being endured by our sister, BG. We remain heartbroken for her, as we have every day for nearly six months. We remain grateful to and confident in the public servants working every day to return her to her family and us. We remain faithful the Administration will do what it takes to end her wrongful detention. We are inspired every day by BG’s strength and we are steadfastly committed to keeping her top-of-mind publicly until she is safely back on American soil. We will not allow her to be forgotten. We are BG.”
Other WNBA players and coaches in the sports world are also reacting, tweeting their support.
University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said in a tweet, "#FreeBrittneyGriner we will not stop advocating for you release. Hold on to God unchanging hand. We love you, BG!"
Connecticut Sun guard Dijonai Carrington said, "praying so hard for BG man."