Kremlin reiterates stance as US basketball star’s drug trial begins
US women’s basketball player Brittney Griner’s arrest on drugs charges was in no way politically motivated and it would be wrong for the Kremlin to comment on the legal process, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said as the star’s trial began.
Griner was filmed arriving at Khimki City Court just outside Moscow on Friday as she faces up to 10 years in prison after being found with banned hashish vape cartridges at Sheremetyevo Airport back in mid-February.
Griner, 31, was arriving in Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason in her homeland – something she had done since 2015.
Given Griner’s status as an icon of women’s basketball – where she is a two-time Olympic champion and eight-time WNBA All-Star – the case has attracted significant attention, with accusations from the US that Russia is using her as a political pawn.
Those claims were again refuted by Peskov as he was questioned about Griner on Friday.
“I can’t comment on the actions of the Russian court, I don’t have the right to do so,” Peskov said, as quoted by RIA.
“We never do that. I can only operate with facts. The facts say that this eminent athlete was detained with illegal drugs that contained narcotic substances.
“Russian legislation has such (laws) that provide for punishments for such crimes, but, again, this is just a statement.
“That’s what she was detained with and what is in our legislation,” said the spokesman for President Vladimir Putin.
Peskov added that Griner’s arrest “cannot be politically motivated, based on what I just said.”
The comments reiterate what Peskov told the US media in an interview earlier this month, in which he dismissed the idea that Griner was somehow being used as a bargaining chip in a potential prisoner swap further down the line.
On that occasion, Peskov told NBC that Griner should not be granted special status simply because she is a foreigner, and said she should be subject to Russian law like anyone else.
The US State Department has classified Griner as “wrongfully detained,” meaning her case has been transferred to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.
However, Griner’s wife Cherelle has questioned the efforts of the Biden Administration in attempting to secure her release.
The spouse hit out at American officials after a blunder at the US Embassy in Moscow last week meant that a long-scheduled telephone call between the pair did not happen as initially planned.
A handcuffed Brittney Griner was briefly filmed at Khimki City Court on the outskirts of Moscow on Friday, being seen in glasses and wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt as she was led into the courtroom.
Ahead of the trial, her detention in Russia was extended until December as the case plays out, although a verdict is expected much sooner than that.