US basketball star Brittney Griner returned to stand trial in a Russian court on Tuesday as the United States tried to secure her release with a prisoner swap to help her avoid up to 10 years in prison on drug charges.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star Griner was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17 with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Wednesday that the United States has made a “significant offer” to Russia to release American citizens held in Russia, including Griner and former Marine Paul Whalen.
A source said Washington was willing to exchange Victor Bout, a convicted arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death”.
Russia said no deal has yet been reached, and that Griner’s swap is unlikely until a ruling is reached, which could happen by mid-August.
Griner, 31, has pleaded guilty to the charges against her but has denied she intended to break Russian law.
Dressed in a plain khaki T-shirt and round-rimmed glasses, Griner was led into the courtroom by police at Khimki District Court outside Moscow, Griner held up personal photographs before sitting in the defendant’s cage.
The two-time Olympic champion testified last week that she could not understand how the vape cartridges ended up in her luggage, speculating that she had inadvertently packed them as she rushed out.
Griner was on his way to join his Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, for the playoffs after spending time at home in the United States.