As WNBA star Brittney Griner fights for leniency in a courtroom outside of Moscow after pleading guilty to drug charges, she’s relying on a legal team with solid grounding inside and out of Russia.
She’s represented by Maria Blagovolina, a former Allen & Overy associate who’s now a partner at Moscow-based Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin, a firm founded four years ago by two former Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld partners.
Ilya Rybalkin and Suren Gortsunyan, the former Akin Gump partners, launched Rybalkin Gortsunyan & Partners in 2018 with a number of other partners in response to a souring geopolitical climate, in which western sanctions made it harder for the lawyers to continue representing key clients in Russia while still at an international firm.
The firm added litigator Dmitry Dyakin, as part of a team from Russian firm Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners in 2020, and it added him as a name partner at the start of March, taking the new name Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin.
Founded with a total of 13 lawyers from Akin Gump’s Moscow office, the firm has steadily grown and now lists over 50 attorneys on its website. In the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Rybalkin told Law.com that the firm was well-equipped to weather the dislocations connected to Western businesses shedding their Russian operations. At the time, as major international firms began to announce their own plans to leave Russia, he expected more attorneys from U.S. and English firms to move to firms like his.
“We’re having constant talks with top performers leaving U.S. firms and English firms and are seeking a new well-established platform to practice on,” he said in March.
Rybalkin did not immediately respond to an inquiry about when Blagovolina joined the firm. She is listed as the head of its white-collar practice on its website, which also notes that she was previously the founder and managing partner of another Russian firm.
Griner, a two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist and Women’s NBA champion who was detained on drug charges in the days before Russia invaded Ukraine, is also represented by attorney Alexander Boykov, according to media reports.
Griner testified Wednesday that she had no idea how cannabis oil cartridges wound up in her luggage, according to a CNN report.
She faces a sentence of 10 years in prison. But U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, delivering remarks in Washington on Wednesday afternoon, indicated that the U.S. had put a “substantial proposal on the table” in talks with Russia aimed at securing her release, along with that of a former U.S. Marine currently imprisoned in Russia. Blinken added that he expects to speak soon with Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov about the issue.