Escorted by a masked police officer with a dog, her wrists in handcuffs, American basketball star Brittney Griner appeared in a Russian court on Tuesday for a rehearing of a trial that is expected to end with her conviction in the middle of this month, her the lawyers said.
One of the best players of her generation, Ms Griner was caught up in a high-stakes rivalry between Moscow and Washington that turned into an outright confrontation with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And as the case is heard in a courtroom, wrangling over Ms Griner’s fate has increasingly shifted to the diplomatic arena, with Russia and the US pointing out her possible involvement in a swap of high-level Russians detained in the United States. .
Last week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the US government had “put a substantial proposal on the table”, although he declined to discuss specifics. On Thursday, he raised the issue with his Russian counterpart, Sergei V. Lavrov, during their first phone call since the war in Ukraine. But no breakthrough has been reported and no progress is expected before a judge in the town of Khimki, near Moscow, delivers his verdict in the case.
Mr Griner, 31, was detained at a Moscow airport on his way to Yekaterinburg, Russia, to play for a local team there about a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Customs officers found two cartridges containing vaping oil in his luggage.
However, news of his detention did not become public until after the start of the war. She was charged with attempting to smuggle a large amount of illegal narcotics into Russia, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Last month, Ms Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, pointing out that she had no intention of breaking Russian law and that the illegal substance was in her luggage as a result of an oversight while she was packing in a hurry. In Russia, a guilty plea does not end a trial, and proceedings are expected to continue until mid-August, according to its legal team.
The case is due to resume on Thursday.
His lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Aleksandr Boikov, are trying to persuade the judge to ease the possible sentence. They called one of Mr Griner’s Russian teammates, Yevgeniya Belyakova, as well as the team manager and doctor, to testify. Her legal team also argued she was permitted to use medical cannabis in Arizona, where she has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, to alleviate pain from spinal, ankle and knee injuries.
During her own testimony in court last week, Ms Griner described how, while in detention, she had faced a confusing and sometimes confusing Russian legal system. Her rights were not explained to her and a lawyer was not provided until 16 hours into her detention, she said. Ms Griner also said she was instructed to sign papers without any explanation of what they entailed and that an interpreter, provided by law enforcement, translated “almost nothing”.