“I wish to plead guilty to all charges (…) But I did not intend to violate Russian law,” said the player in a court in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, according to a journalist from the AFP.
The trial of Griner, imprisoned in Russia since February after being arrested for possession of cannabis-based vaping liquid, is being closely watched by US President Joe Biden, who has made her release a “priority”.
This affair is part of a context of strong bilateral tensions linked to the conflict in Ukraine, many observers suspecting Russia of using this case for a future exchange of prisoners with the United States.
Before the start of the second trial hearing on Thursday, Russian diplomacy had denounced the “public hype” of American leaders around his case, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov believing that it “parasited” the case.
On Wednesday, the White House assured that releasing Brittney Griner was a “priority” for the American president. Prior to this, the highest authorities in Washington had said that Russia was “unfairly” detaining the 2m03 star.
The Phoenix Mercury player was arrested in February when she arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in possession, according to the prosecution, of vaporizers and a cannabis-based liquid.
“I was in a hurry while packing my bags and the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bag,” said the player on Thursday, who will be questioned by the court at the next hearing on July 14.
– Letter from Biden –
Griner, who faces up to 10 years in prison, arrived at the hearing on Thursday handcuffed and escorted by several officers, wearing a red t-shirt and sweatpants.
At the time of her arrest, she was traveling to Russia to play there during the American offseason, a common practice for WNBA basketball players who often make a much better living abroad than at home.
In view of Russian case law in similar cases, this 31-year-old woman can expect a heavy sentence, to be served in a Russian penal colony.
US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said on Twitter that the United States will have “no respite” until Griner and “all other wrongfully detained Americans” are freed.
He also said that officials from the American Embassy in Moscow had given the player a letter from Mr. Biden, without revealing its contents.
Detained in a Russian prison, the basketball player had herself written a letter to Joe Biden symbolically deposited at the White House on Monday, the day of the independence day of the United States, imploring the president not to “forget it “.
“Please don’t forget me and the other American detainees,” wrote Brittney Griner, saying she was “terrified to be here forever.”
– Prisoner exchanges –
While observers are already anticipating an upcoming prisoner exchange between Griner and a Russian detained in the United States, Mr. Ryabkov called on Thursday to wait for the end of the trial.
“It is clear that all the legal proceedings are not over with us. Until that is done, we cannot talk about the rest,” said the diplomat.
Americans and Russians accuse each other of detaining their respective nationals for political purposes. Several prisoner exchanges have taken place in the past.
In April, former US Marine Trevor Reed, sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia for violence he denied, was exchanged for a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, imprisoned in the United States since 2010 for drug trafficking .
Other exchanges of this type would be the subject of talks.
Among the most mentioned names, those of Paul Whelan, an American sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage and who claims his innocence, and the famous Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, arrested in Thailand in 2008 and who is serving a sentence of 25 years in prison in the United States.