As the U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner appeared in a Russian court, the Kremlin denied on Friday that the drug charges against her were politically motivated.
Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told reporters at a regular news conference that “the famous athlete was detained with illegal drugs that contained narcotic substances.”
“Only the court can pass a verdict,” he said. Mr. Peskov’s comments came as Ms. Griner was appearing in a court outside Moscow for the first hearing in her case. The drug charges that she faces carry a sentence of up to 10 years at a penal colony.
Ms. Griner was detained on Feb. 17 in a Moscow airport. Russian officials said they had found vape cartridges bearing traces of hash oil in her luggage when she passed through a security checkpoint.
In the courtroom on Friday, the prosecutor claimed that Ms. Griner was “aware enough” that transporting narcotics into Russia was forbidden, TASS, a Russian news agency, reported. In response, Ms. Griner said that she understood the charges but would respond to them later, according to TASS.
Her detention comes at a tense moment, with Moscow and Washington at loggerheads over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The case against her has raised fears that Moscow might use Ms. Griner’s fate as a bargaining chip in negotiations over the release of high-profile Russians held in American prisons.
The Russian authorities have denied intending to use Ms. Griner in any future exchanges, urging patience for the court to deliver its verdict.
Ms. Griner’s lawyer has said that the trial could take up to two months.