All signs point to Brittney Griner being convicted in Russia on drug charges that could carry a sentence of up to 10 years. Even before Griner pleaded guilty “without intent” last week at her trial, her conviction was almost certain – less than 1% of cases in Russia end in acquittal.
The eight-time WNBA All-Star toiling for years in a Russian penal colony, however, is not the desired outcome for her supporters or the United States government, which has classified her as “wrongfully detained.”
“We know that she’s going to be convicted … so is there an exit strategy?” Rob Saale, a former FBI hostage negotiation expert, told USA TODAY Sports.
That “exit strategy” will manifest in the form of a prisoner swap with Russia, experts predict. In April, the U.S. brought back former Marine Trevor Reed from Russian prison by exchanging Russian pilot and convicted drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroskenko. Reed had been sentenced to nine years on assault charges but began experiencing health problems while detained, his family said.
“There’s not a lot of leverage the U.S. can pull to get the Russians to release her other than cutting a deal and releasing someone that’s in our jail here,” said Saale, who served as director of the U.S. Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell from 2017-19.
Griner’s trial in Russia is ongoing.
‘Hostage diplomacy’:Potential Brittney Griner prisoner swap with Russia is promising and dangerous
►A senior military official told reporters Friday that the Pentagon will not track the weapons it sends to Ukraine but has not seen any indication they are being misused. “We feel pretty good that the Ukrainians are using the weapons that we’ve provided to them and have not seen any indications that those weapons have gone anywhere else other than to fight against the Russians,” the official said.
►More than 9 million people have crossed the border from Ukraine since Russia first invaded Ukraine in February, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. The number of individual refugees from Ukraine across Europe is nearly 6 million.
NASA, Roscosmos agree on astronaut rideshare deal
A long-awaited deal between NASA and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos allowing integrated flights to the International Space Station was signed Friday, according to numerous reports.
The deal will allow American astronauts to fly on Soyuz spacecraft and Russian cosmonauts to fly on American-made commercial crew vehicles. The first of two separate Russian launches where American astronauts have seats are set to blast off in September, while Russian cosmonauts will join at least two future SpaceX missions, according to CNN.
“The agreement is in the interests of Russia and the United States and will promote the development of cooperation within the framework of the ISS program,” Roscosmos said in a statement, according to Reuters, adding the deal will facilitate the “exploration of outer space for peaceful purposes.”
Financial leaders of the Group of 20, the world’s richest and biggest economies, have wrapped up meetings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali without a final joint statement after talks were overshadowed by divisions over the war in Ukraine.
As G-20 host this year, Indonesia has sought to bridge divisions between G-20 members over Russia’s invasion, but hostility over the conflict was evident despite agreement on the urgency of global economic challenges worsened by the war.
Asked why there was no joint statement or communique from the meeting, Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said that all involved agreed the meeting took place “under a very challenging and difficult situation because of the geopolitical tensions.”
A spokesperson for Yellen did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
The White House warned on Saturday that Russia is trying to acquire “attack capable” unmanned aerial vehicles from Iran and said it had intelligence that Russian officials visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice to view the weapons-capable drones.
“We assess an official Russian delegation recently received a showcase of Iranian attack-capable UAVs. We are releasing these images captured in June showing Iranian UAVs that the Russian government delegation saw that day,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the Associated Press. “This suggests ongoing Russian interest in acquiring Iranian attack-capable UAVs.”
The images were first obtained by CNN. Russian officials viewed the drones at Kashan Airfield on June 8 and July 15, the White House said.
Russia increases attacks against civilians Saturday
Russia stepped up its onslaught against Ukraine on Saturday, with civilian casualties reported in several areas of the country.
At least three civilians were killed and three more were injured in a Russian rocket strike on the northern Ukrainian city of Chuhuiv in the early hours, a regional police chief said. In the neighboring Sumy region, one civilian was killed and at least seven more were injured after Russians opened mortar and artillery fire on three towns and villages not far from the Russian border, regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said on Telegram on Saturday morning.
Seven civilians were killed and 14 more received injuries in the most recent 24 hours in cities in Ukraine’s embattled eastern Donetsk region, its governor said Saturday morning.
And in Ukraine’s south, two people were wounded by Russian shelling in the town of Bashtanka, northeast of the Black Sea city of Mykolaiv, according to a Telegram post by regional governor Vitaliy Kim.
However, Ukrainian troops repelled a Russian overnight assault on a strategic eastern highway, said Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region. Haidai said that Russia had been attempting to capture the main road link between the cities of Lysychansk and Bakhmut “for more than two months.”
Contributing: Associated Press