By Jim Heintz, Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) – Jailed American basketball star Britney Greener returned to a Russian court on Thursday to face trial on drug charges after a senior Russian diplomat warned that U.S. criticism of how Russia handled the case would not help her release.
Greener’s trial began last week amid calls for Washington to do more to secure his release, nearly five months after Greener’s arrest.
The athlete was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February when he allegedly found a vapor canister with cannabis oil in his luggage. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale drug trafficking.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned on Thursday that “attempts by the American side to make noise in public … do not help in the practical settlement of problems.”
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The White House says President Joe Biden called Greener’s wife Wednesday to reassure her that he was doing his best to get the athlete released as soon as possible. They spoke after reading a letter from Biden Greener that he said he was afraid he would never return home.
Washington has not disclosed its strategy in the case, and the United States may have little advantage over Moscow because of its strong hostility to Russia’s military action in Ukraine. The State Department has designated Greener as an unjust detainee, his case under the supervision of his special presidential envoy on hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Asked about the possibility of a Greener exchange for a Russian citizen imprisoned in the United States, senior Russian diplomat Ryabkov noted that “there is no formal or procedural reason to talk about any further action until his trial is over.”
He warned that Greener had been wrongfully detained and that US criticism, including his remarks about the Russian judiciary, “makes it difficult to engage in detailed discussions of any possible exchange.”
The trial of the Phoenix Mercury star and two-time Olympic gold medalist was postponed after it began last week because two scheduled witnesses did not appear. Such delays are regular in Russian courts and his detention is approved by December 20, suggesting that the process could take several months.
It was unclear whether Greener would testify on Thursday.
Although Greener’s supporters initially kept a low profile, the United States was urged to take action after the first day of the trial.
One of America’s most prominent black activists, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who this week called on Biden to arrange a prayer meeting with Greener, said: “It’s been a long four months, and I hope the president will work on it. I urge you to come home.”
An organization called Win with Black Women sent a letter to Biden asking Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to “call Britney’s wife, Cheryl Greener, reassure her and publicly state that Brittany’s safe return is a matter of personal priority; However, we are concerned that the rhetoric does not seem to be consistent with the steps taken so far. We urge you to make an agreement to bring Brittany back to the country as soon as possible. “
Russian media have repeatedly speculated that Greener could be replaced for Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, nicknamed the “Death Dealer,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States for plotting to kill U.S. citizens and providing assistance to one. Terrorist organization.
Russia has been campaigning for Bout’s release for several years. But the wide discrepancy between Bout’s global dealings with Greener’s alleged crimes and deadly weapons could make such a shift unpleasant for Washington.
Others have suggested that he could be dealt with by Paul Huilan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage that the United States has repeatedly described as a setup.
Russia showed no signs of retreating.
“This is a serious crime, as confirmed by the indisputable evidence … There will be no attempt to present the case in such a way that the Americans have been detained illegally,” State Department spokesman Alexei Zaitsev said on Wednesday.
“The law has been violated, and the argument about the innocent nature of Greener’s addiction, which is punishable in some U.S. states, is inappropriate in this case,” he said.
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