Published On: Wed, Jul 27th, 2022

Brittney Griner set to testify in Russian court in drugs trial

MOSCOW — Brittney Griner is expected to testify in a Russian court Wednesday, a potentially key moment in her trial on drugs 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 has underscored the frayed relations between Washington and Moscow and led to growing calls for the United States to do more to secure her release.

Griner, 31, was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after Russian authorities said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. Medicinal and recreational cannabis are legal in many U.S. states, but both are prohibited in Russia.

A center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Griner’s lawyers argue that she packed her bags quickly and didn’t intend to bring the vape cannisters into Russia.

In the latest appearance of the weekslong proceedings at Khimki regional court near Moscow, her defense team argued on Tuesday that, like many international athletes, she uses medicinal marijuana to help with injury pain.

The hearing Wednesday is expected to start 2:30 p.m. local time (7:30 a.m. ET). It’s expected that Griner will testify and then be cross-examined by the prosecution and defense.

Her trial comes at a particularly sensitive moment between Russia and the West after the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.

U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have said Griner is being “wrongfully detained,” and supporters fear she is being used as a political pawn by Russia.

On Tuesday, Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine freed from a Russian prison in a prisoner exchange in April, said he believes President Joe Biden isn’t doing enough to bring her home.

“In my opinion, the White House has the ability to get them out extremely fast, and they clearly have chosen not to do that. So no, in my opinion, they’re not doing enough,” Reed said in an exclusive interview with “Hallie Jackson NOW,” also referring to corporate executive Paul Whelan, who was detained by Russia in 2018.

The White House on Tuesday responded to Reed’s comments by saying Griner and Whelan have “been top of mind for the president and for our national security team.”

“President Biden has been clear about the need to see every American who is wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad released, including Brittney Griner,” Adrienne Watson, White House spokesperson, told NBC News.

Earlier this month Griner wrote a letter to Biden, telling him, “I’m terrified I might be here forever.” Blinken tweeted after a recent hearing that U.S. embassy officials attending the trial were able to speak to Griner and deliver a letter in response from Biden.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has rejected the idea that Griner has been wrongfully detained, saying that the legality of medicinal cannabis in some U.S. states has no bearing on Russia.

“If a U.S. citizen” was “smuggling drugs, and she does not deny this, then this should be commensurate with our Russian local laws, and not with those adopted in San Francisco, New York and Washington,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“If drugs are legalized in the United States, in a number of states, and this is done for a long time and now the whole country will become drug-addicted, this does not mean that all other countries are following the same path,” she added.

Washington has not officially commented on any possible prisoner swaps for Griner, despite speculation in Russian state media in May that she could be exchanged for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S.

NBC News wasn’t able to confirm those reports.

Tatyana Chistikova reported from Moscow, and Alexander Smith and Yuliya Talmazan reported from London.

Yuliya Talmazan and The Associated Press contributed.

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