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Credit…Pool photo by Evgenia Novozhenina

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Wednesday that the United States ‘put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago’ in talks with Russia to secure the release of the detained basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.

The United States and Russia have “communicated repeatedly and directly on this proposal,” Blinken told a news conference in Washington, declining to discuss details of the talks. He said he expected to speak soon with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov about the matter.

Although Mr Blinken has never uttered the words “prisoner swap”, many experts have said such a deal may be the only way for Mrs Griner to secure her freedom.

Mr Blinken’s comments came the same day Ms Griner, who was detained in Russia on drug charges, told a court outside Moscow that she had been thrown into a confusing legal system with little explanations of what was happening and what she could do. to try to defend themselves.

Mr. Whelan was convicted last year of espionage.

Ms Griner described arriving in Russia after a grueling 13-hour flight – and shortly after recovering from Covid – and finding herself in an interrogation during which much of what was said remained untranslated . She said she was also told to sign papers without any explanation of what they were.

It was his first testimony in court about his arrest in a case that has taken on a life of its own due to the war in Ukraine. The conflict has created the deepest rift between the United States and Russia since the end of the Cold War.

When Ms Griner arrived at the hearing wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt, she did wrists chained in front of herand she was flanked by a coterie of Russian security guards, some of whom wore body armor, their faces covered in balaclavas.

Russian authorities arrested Ms. Griner, 31, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, about a week before President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine in February. She was accused of having two canisters of hash oil vape in her luggage when she arrived at an airport near Moscow. Russia only made his detention public after the invasion began.

Ms Griner had traveled to Russia to play with a team in Yekaterinburg, about 900 miles east of Moscow, during the WNBA offseason. She was charged with willfully smuggling vape cartridges, in violation of Russian drug laws.

Earlier this month, Ms Griner pleaded guilty, saying she made a mistake and unwittingly transported a banned substance to Russia because she had hastily packaged it. In the Russian legal system, a guilty plea does not end a trial; Lawyers for Ms Griner, who faces a 10-year sentence, expect it to continue until August.

Lawyers for Ms Griner said they hoped her guilty plea would make the court more lenient, but experts say her best hope is that the Biden administration finds a way to trade her for a detained high-profile Russian. by the United States. .

Testifying to a closed witness box on Wednesday, Ms Griner said she had planned to fly to Yekaterinburg but was ruled out during a baggage check at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, according to one of his lawyers, Aleksandr Boikov, of the Moscow Law Center. .

Ms Griner testified that she was told to sign documents while in custody without explaining what they meant. And Mr Boikov said an interpreter provided to Ms Griner after her arrest translated “almost nothing” and she was held for 16 hours before a lawyer came to help.

Maria Blagovolina, a partner at the law firm Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners who also represents Ms Griner, said in a statement after the hearing that her client had “explained to the court that she knows and respects Russian laws and does not never intended to break them.”

“Brittney has confirmed that she has a medical prescription for the use of medical cannabis, and that in the United States, medical cannabis is quite a popular treatment among professional athletes,” Ms Blagovolina said. “She pointed out that she never planned to bring it to Russia and use it.”

Ms Griner also told the court that Yekaterinburg “became her second home and she always enjoyed her time in Russia,” Ms Blagovolina said.

Before the testimony, Ms Griner’s legal team asked the judge to allow the basketball player to testify outside the closed witness box due to her size. The judge, Anna Sotnikova, refused the request but allowed Ms Griner to testify seated, according to TASS, a Russian state news agency.


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