US basketball star Brittney Griner has told a US diplomat she is “keeping the faith” after appearing in Russian court for possession of cannabis.
US Chargé Elizabeth Rood, who attended Friday’s hearing in Khimki, near Moscow, told reporters she was able to speak to the WNBA player, who was “as good as you could get. expect it”.
The 31-year-old was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February while traveling to play for a Russian team.
Police said she was carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.
The Phoenix Mercury star and two-time US Olympic gold medalist could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale drug trafficking.
Griner supporters have encouraged a prisoner exchange like the one in April that sent Navy veteran Trevor Reed home in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of a drug trafficking conspiracy.
Russian media have repeatedly speculated that Griner could be traded for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, dubbed the “dealer of death”.
He is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiracy to kill US citizens and aiding a terrorist organization.
However, the stark difference between Griner’s alleged drug charges — and Bout’s worldwide dealings in deadly weapons — might make such a swap unlikely.
Moreover, the detention of the athlete comes at an extraordinarily low point in relations between the two countries amid the war in Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion led to sweeping sanctions imposed by Washington, while Moscow denounced the United States for sending arms to Ukraine.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has urged US President Joe Biden to secure her release, calling her a “political pawn”.
On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the policy had anything to do with the sportswoman’s detention and prosecution.
“The facts are that the famous athlete was detained in possession of prohibited drugs containing narcotic substances,” he told reporters.
“Given what I said, it cannot be politically motivated,” he added.