American basketball star Brittney Griner told a US diplomat she is “keeping the faith” after appearing in a Russian court on charges of possessing cannabis.
US charge d’affaires Elizabeth Rood, who attended Friday’s hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, told reporters that she was able to speak to the WNBA player, who was “as expected” .
The 31-year-old was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February while traveling to play for a Russian team.
Police said he was carrying vape cans with cannabis oil.
Phoenix Mercury star and two-time Olympic gold medalist in the United States could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale drug transport.
Griner’s supporters encouraged a prisoner swap like the April one that sent Navy veteran Trevor Reed home in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.
Russian media have repeatedly raised speculation that Griner could be traded with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Death Merchant”.
He is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to kill US citizens and for providing aid to a terrorist organization.
However, the large difference between Griner’s alleged drug allegations – and Bout’s global affairs in deadly weapons – could make such a trade unlikely.
Furthermore, the athlete’s detention comes to an extraordinarily low point in relations between the two countries during the war in Ukraine.
The invasion of Russia led to sweeping sanctions imposed by Washington, while Moscow denounced the United States for sending weapons to Ukraine.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, urged US President Joe Biden to secure her release, calling her “a political pawn”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday denied that the policy had anything to do with the detention and prosecution of the sportswoman.
“The facts are that the famous athlete was arrested in possession of prohibited drugs containing narcotic substances,” he told reporters.
“Given what I have said, it cannot be politically motivated,” he added.