On Friday, WNBA star Britney Greener extended her pre-trial detention in Russia for one month, her lawyer said.
Alexander Boykov told the Associated Press that he thinks the relatively short extension indicates that Griner’s case will soon be taken to court. The 31-year-old American basketball player has been in custody for almost three months.
Greener, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Phoenix Mercury, was detained at Moscow’s airport in February after vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage. She faces charges of drug smuggling, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Greener appeared at a brief hearing in a suburban court in handcuffs, dressed in an orange hoodie and holding her face down. She did not express “any claims to the conditions of detention,” Boykov said.
The Biden administration says Greener is being detained illegally. Representatives of the WNBA and the United States worked on her release, but without visible progress.
“Today’s news about Britney Greener was not unexpected, and the WNBA continues to work with the US government to bring BG home safely and as soon as possible,” the basketball league said in a statement.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said U.S. embassy diplomats in Moscow spoke with Greener on Friday and said she was “doing as well as might be expected in the circumstances.”
Russian officials have called Greener’s case a criminal offense without creating any political alliances. But Moscow’s war in Ukraine has brought US-Russian relations to their lowest level since the Cold War.
Despite tensions, Russia and the United States made an unexpected prisoner exchange last month, exchanging former Marine Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
Although the United States does not normally accept such exchanges, they struck a deal in part because Yaroshenko has already served most of his term.
The Russians can consider Greener as someone who could appear in the next such exchange.
Last week, the State Department said it now considers Greener illegally detained, indicating a change in classification that suggests the U.S. government will step up its efforts to secure her release, even as a legal case unfolds.
The change in status places her case within the purview of the special envoy of the President of the Department of Hostages, who is responsible for negotiations on the release of hostages and Americans who are considered illegally detained.
Also working on the case is a center headed by Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who helped secure the release of many hostages and detainees, including Reed.
It is not entirely clear why the U.S. government, which for several weeks has been more cautious in its approach, reclassified Greener as illegally detained. But under federal law, there are a number of factors that fall into this characterization, including if the detention is based on the fact that he is American, or if the detainee has been denied due process.
In addition to Greener, another American who is considered unjustly detained in Russia is Paul Whelan, head of corporate security in Michigan. Whelan was arrested in December 2018 during a friend’s wedding visit and was later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges that his family called fictitious.