Brittney Griner: Russian court sets July 1 trial date for WNBA star

US basketball star's detention extended another six months

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medallist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, Russia. AP
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A Russian court has set a start date of July 1 for WNBA star Brittney Griner's trial, four months after she was first detained at a Moscow airport for allegedly transporting hashish oil cartridges.

In a preliminary hearing, the US basketball star was ordered to remain in custody for the duration of her trial and the court also extended her detention by another six months.

She could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the drugs charges.

Griner’s detention and trial come at an extraordinarily low point in Moscow-Washington relations.

She was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport less than a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, which was immediately followed by the US slapping sweeping sanctions on Moscow.

The US in May reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained” and assigned Roger Carstens, US special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, to secure her release.

Representatives from the Phoenix Mercury, the WNBA team Griner plays for, consulted with the US State Department earlier this month on her detention status.

Russian outlets have speculated that the two-time Olympian could be swapped in a prisoner exchange for arms trader Victor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organisation.

Others have suggested that she could be traded in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former marine who is currently serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges. He has consistently denied the charges and the US has called his case a set-up.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not say if the US was considering a joint prisoner swap involving Griner and Mr Whelan.

“As a general proposition … I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said.

Mr Blinken added that “this is an absolute priority”, but did not provide further comment.

Updated: June 28, 2022, 5:46 AM