American basketball player Britney Grenier, who has been prosecuted and detained in Russia, pleaded guilty Thursday to drug trafficking charges in a case Washington is closely following amid rising tensions with Moscow.
• Read also: Biden exchanges with wife of basketball star Britney Grenier, who is detained in Russia
• Read also: The release of Britney Greiner, imprisoned in Russia, is a “priority” for Biden
“I would like to plead guilty to all charges (…) but I did not intend to violate Russian law,” the player said in a court in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, according to an AFP journalist.
US President Joe Biden is closely watching the trial of Greiner, who has been imprisoned in Russia since February after his arrest for possession of cannabis vaping liquid, which made her release a “priority”.
This case is part of the context of strong bilateral tensions linked to the conflict in Ukraine, with many observers suspecting that Russia is using the case for a future prisoner exchange with the United States.
Before the start of the second trial session on Thursday, the Russian diplomat denounced the “public hype” of US leaders over his case, which Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov believes is “intrusive” the case.
On Wednesday, the White House confirmed that the release of Britney Grenier was a “priority” for the US president. Before that, Washington’s highest authorities said that Russia had “unfairly” held the 2m03 star.
The Phoenix Mercury player was arrested in February when she arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow with, according to the prosecution, vaporizers and liquids from cannabis.
“I was in a hurry while packing my bags and the cartridge accidentally ended up in my bag,” said the player on Thursday, who will be questioned by the court in the next hearing on July 14.
Greiner, who faces up to 10 years in prison, arrived at the hearing Thursday handcuffed and escorted by several officers wearing a red shirt and track pants.
At the time of her arrest, she was traveling to Russia to play there during the American season, a common practice for WNBA basketball players who often make a living abroad much better than their home country.
Given Russian case law in similar cases, this 31-year-old woman can expect a harsh sentence, to be executed in a Russian criminal colony.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Twitter that the US would have “no respite” until Greiner and “all other Americans unjustly detained” are released.
He also said that officials from the US Embassy in Moscow handed the player a message from Biden, without revealing its content.
The basketball player being held in a Russian prison had written a letter to Joe Biden that was symbolically deposited at the White House on Monday, US Independence Day, imploring the president not to “forget.”
“Please don’t forget me and our other American guests,” Britney Greiner wrote, saying she was “terrified to stay here forever.”
With observers already anticipating an upcoming prisoner exchange between Grenier and a Russian being held in the United States, Mr. Ryabkov called on Thursday to wait until the end of the trial.
“It is clear that all the legal proceedings are not over with us. As long as this is not done, we cannot talk about the rest,” the diplomat said.
Americans and Russians accuse each other of detaining their citizens for political purposes. Many prisoners have been exchanged in the past.
In April, former US Marine Trevor Reed, who had been sentenced to nine years in Russia for the violence he denied, switched Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, imprisoned in the United States since 2010 on drug smuggling charges.
Other exchanges of this kind will be the subject of talks.
Among the most frequently mentioned are those of Paul Whelan, an American who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage and who claimed his innocence, and the famous Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, who was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and is serving a 25-year sentence. In prison in the United States.