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WNBA star Brittney Griner has to go to Russia on Friday

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Associated Press

MOSCOW — Chained and wary, WNBA star Brittney Griner was ordered Friday to stand trial by a court near Moscow on charges of cannabis possession, about 4 1/2 months after her arrest at an airport as she returned to play for a Russian team.

The Phoenix Mercury center and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist was also ordered to remain in custody for the duration of her criminal trial. Griner could face 10 years in prison if convicted on large-scale drug trafficking charges. Less than 1% of suspects in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the US, acquittals can be reversed.

At Monday’s closed-door preliminary hearing in court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, Griner’s detention was extended for another six months. Photos obtained by the Associated Press showed the 31-year-old handcuffed and looking straight ahead, unlike a previous court appearance where she kept her head down and covered with a hood.

Her detention and trial come at an extraordinary low in Moscow-Washington relations. She was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport less than a week before Russia sent troops to Ukraine, exacerbating already high tensions with sweeping United States sanctions and Russia’s cancellation of US arms supplies to Ukraine.

Amid the tensions, Griner’s supporters had kept a low profile in hopes of a quiet solution until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongly detained and shifted oversight of her case to the Presidential Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs. – basically the US government. chief negotiator.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, urged President Joe Biden in May to secure her release, calling her “a political pawn.”

Its supporters have encouraged a prisoner swap like the one seen in April, in which Navy veteran Trevor Reed was brought home in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.

Russian news media has repeatedly speculated that she could be traded for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year prison sentence on charges of conspiracy to murder American citizens and aid a terrorist organization. .

Russia has been campaigning for Bout’s release for years. But the discrepancy between Griner’s case – she is said to be in possession of vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil – and Bout’s global trade in deadly weapons could make such a trade unpalatable to the US.

Others have suggested she could be trafficked in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and Security Director serving a 16-year prison sentence over an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly described as deliberate.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who asked on CNN on Sunday whether a joint swap of Griner and Whelan for Bout was being considered, dodged the question.

“As a general statement…I have no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But “I can’t say in detail what we’re doing except to say it’s an absolute priority.”

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