MOSCOW – Brittney Griner is expected to testify in a Russian court on Wednesday, a potentially pivotal moment in her trial on drug charges that could see the American basketball star face up to 10 years in prison.
Griner pleaded guilty earlier this month in a trial that underscored the fractured relationship between Washington and Moscow and led to growing calls for the United States to do more to secure her release.
Griner, 31, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February after Russian authorities said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in their luggage. Medical and recreational cannabis are legal in many US states, but both are banned in Russia.
Griner’s attorneys, a center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, argue that she packed her bags quickly and has no plans to bring the vape canisters to Russia.
In the latest appearance of the week-long trial at the Khimki District Court near Moscow on Tuesday, her defense team argued that, like many international athletes, she uses medical marijuana to treat pain from injuries.
Wednesday’s hearing is expected to begin at 2:30 p.m. local time (7:30 a.m. ET). Griner is expected to testify and then be questioned by the prosecution and defense.
Her trial comes at a particularly sensitive moment between Russia and the West following the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have said Griner is being “wrongly imprisoned,” and supporters fear she is being used as a political pawn by Russia.
On Tuesday, Trevor Reed, a former US Marine who was freed from a Russian prison in a prisoner swap in April, said he believes President Joe Biden is not doing enough to bring them home.
“In my opinion, the White House has an opportunity to get them out extremely quickly and they have clearly chosen not to do so. So no, I don’t think they’re doing enough,” Reed said in an exclusive interview with Hallie Jackson NOW, also referencing company CEO Paul Whelan, who was arrested by Russia in 2018.
The White House responded to Reed’s comments on Tuesday by saying Griner and Whelan “came first for the President and for our national security team.”
“President Biden has made it clear that any American wrongfully arrested or held hostage abroad, including Brittney Griner, must be released,” White House spokeswoman Adrienne Watson told NBC News.
Earlier this month, Griner wrote a letter to Biden, telling him, “I’m afraid I might be here forever.” Blink tweeted following a recent hearing that US embassy officials attending the trial were able to speak with Griner and delivered a reply letter from Biden.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has dismissed the idea that Griner was wrongly arrested, saying that the legality of medical cannabis in some US states has no bearing on Russia.
“If a US citizen” “smuggled drugs and she doesn’t deny it, then it should be in accordance with our local Russian laws and not those passed in San Francisco, New York and Washington,” State Department spokeswoman Maria said Zakharova .
“If drugs are going to be legalized in the US, in a number of states, and have been for a long time, and now the whole country is becoming addicted to drugs, that doesn’t mean all other countries are going the same way,” she added.
Washington has not officially commented on a possible prisoner swap for Griner, although Russian state media speculated in May that she could be swapped for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US
NBC News could not confirm these reports.
Tatyana Chistikova reported from Moscow, Alexander Smith and Yuliya Talmazan reported from London.
Julia Talmazan and The Associated Press contributed.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/brittney-griner-set-testify-russian-court-drugs-trial-rcna40172 Brittney Griner is set to testify in a drug trial in a Russian court