U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner goes on trial in Russia on Friday on drug charges that could see her face up to 10 years in jail, in a case that highlights the already fraught relations between Moscow and Washington.
Griner, a star player in the U.S.-based Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport on Feb. 17, just days before Russia invaded Ukraine, unleashing a broader confrontation with the West.
Russian authorities alleged that the 31-year-old was carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a substance illegal in the country. She was charged with smuggling a large quantity of drugs, an offence that can carry up to 10 years in jail.
U.S. officials and a score of athletes have called for Griner's release. Griner's detention also prompted concerns that Moscow could use the two-time Olympic gold medallist to negotiate the release of a high-profile Russian in U.S. custody.
The U.S. has classified Griner as “wrongfully detained.” She has been in detention since February.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, while speaking to Good Morning America, said, “Every single day matters for me to be sound, for me to be alert, for me to be attentive, to make sure that she comes back.”
“I just keep hearing that, you know, he has the power. She’s a political pawn,” she told Roberts. “So if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”
The U.S. government has warned citizens against travelling to Russia in light of the "potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials."
Griner plays centre for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA and is a seven-time WNBA All-Star.
For years, Griner played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA off-season, like several other U.S. players offered lucrative contracts by the Russian Women's Basketball Premier League.
Griner's detention, combined with Russia's military intervention in Ukraine, prompted several foreign players to leave the Russian league.